Molecular Oncology

Research Overview

Professor Elizabeth Vincan is a Senior Medical Scientist and Researcher at the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory (VIDRL) and Doherty Department, University of Melbourne. Her role as Medical Scientist is to translate research discoveries into a clinical setting. Elizabeth is also a laboratory head at the Doherty Institute, University of Melbourne. Her team of researchers investigate how normal stem cells become cancer cells and the role viral infection plays in this change. Elizabeth is an honorary in the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience at the University and is an Adjunct Professor within the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences at Curtin University in Western Australia.

Elizabeth completed her PhD at the University of Melbourne in 1995. Her experimental work, conducted at Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital, identified and characterised novel macrophage tropic HIV isolates. Her postdoctorals at the Baker Institute and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre led to a keen interest in signal transduction and her lab's research focus: the Wnt signalling pathway in cancer. She is internationally recognised as an expert in Wnt signalling and was the convenor of the first international Wnt meeting, and the first EMBO workshop, to be held in Australia. She has attracted numerous grants and awards to fund her research.

Elizabeth’s group investigates novel ways to block cancer growth with a focus on the gastrointestinal tract – stomach, bowel and liver. A cell-cell communication pathway called Wnt is hyperactive in these cancers. Their research shows inhibiting Wnt has potent anti-cancer effects.

Elizabeth Vincan Project A

Adult stem cells are the cell-of-origin of cancer. Stem cells are absolutely dependent on tightly controlled Wnt signalling, however, these cells initiate cancer if the Wnt pathway is abnormally switched on. Elizabeth’s research shows that the level of Wnt activity in the cancer cells is critical to cancer growth and that this level is modulated by additional signalling from the Wnt receptor complex. Using mini-gut, -liver and -stomach  organoid technology developed by her collaborators, Professors Hans Clevers and Nick Barker, her group demonstrated potent anti-tumour effects by blocking Wnt receptors. This is being developed as targeted therapy for gastrointestinal cancers.

Elizabeth Vincan Project B

Some human viruses are exquisitely selective and only infect human cells. This has hampered studies to prevent and control infection. To fill this gap in knowledge, Elizabeth’s team has established patient-derived organoid models that faithfully recapitulate the key features of natural infection. Established from resected and biopsy tissue pieces, organoids contain stem cells that are coerced to generate tiny replicas that faithfully recapitulate the essential architecture and function of their tissue of origin. This enables anti-viral testing, toxicology and vaccine development using adult human tissue. We are establishing diverse human organoid models to combat emerging infections of public health importance.


  • Professor Elizabeth Vincan, Senior Medical Scientist & Laboratory Head
  • Dr Bang Manh Tran, Research Fellow
  • Dr Aurora Messina, Senior Research Fellow
  • Dr Hoanh Tran, Senior Research Fellow (Honorary)
  • Dr Toby Phesse, Senior Research Fellow (Honorary)
  • Dr Dustin Flanagan, Research Fellow (Honorary)
  • Dr Renate Schwab, Research Fellow (Honorary)
  • Jean Moselen, Research Assistant/Medical Scientist
  • Dr Georgina Riddough, PhD Student


  • NHMRC Ideas
    APP11815802020-2023E Vincan (CIA 80%), H Tran, BM Tran, TJ Phesse, H Clevers
    Adult stem cell-derived organoids: innovative models to elucidate signalling mechanisms in Wnt-addicted cancers
    Publications: 1
  • NHMRC Project
    APP10993022016-2018E Vincan (CIA 80%), TJ Phesse, N Barker
    Fzd7 as a therapeutic target for gastric cancer
    Publications: 7
  • NHMRC Project
    5666792009-2011E Vincan (CIA 80%), N Barker, H Clevers, T Brabletz
    Molecules involved in gut development and bowel cancer
    Publications: 12

Research Publications

  1. Vincan E and Barker N. The upstream components of the Wnt signalling pathway control the dynamic EMT and MET associated with colorectal cancer progression.  Clin Exp Metastasis 25:657-63 (2008) IF 3.91, SJR 2.07 [143 citations]
  2. Phesse TJ, Buchert M, Stuart E, Flanagan DJ, Faux M, Afshar-Sterle S, Walker F, Zhang HH, Nowell CJ, Jorissen R, Tan CW, Hirokawa Y, Eissmann MF, Poh AR, Malaterre J, Pearson HB, Kirsch DG, Provero P, Poli V, Ramsay RG, Sieber O, Burgess AW, Huszar D, Vincan E+ and M Ernst. Partial inhibition of gp130-Jak-Stat3 signaling prevents Wnt-β-catenin-mediated intestinal tumour growth and regeneration. Science Signaling 7:ra92 (2014) IF 7.4, SJR 4.63, [42 citations]
  3. Flanagan DJ, Phesse TJ, Barker N, Schwab RHM, Amin N, Malaterre J, Stange DE, Nowell CJ, Currie SA, Saw JT, Beuchert E, Ramsay RG, Sansom O, Ernst M, Clevers H and Vincan E. Frizzled7 functions as a Wnt receptor in intestinal epithelial Lgr5+ stem cells. Stem Cell Reports 4:759-67 (2015) IF 8.2, SJR 5.3, [63 citations]
  4. Flanagan DJ, Barker N, Di Costanzo N, Mason E, Gurney A, Meniel V, Koushyar S, Austin CR, Ernst M, Pearson HB, Boussioutas A, Clevers H, Phesse TJ, Vincan E. Frizzled-7 is required for Wnt signalling in gastric tumours with and without Apc mutations. Cancer Research 79:970-981 (2019) IF 9.13, SJR 4.26 [20 citations]
  5. Tran BM, Flanagan DJ, Ebert G, Warner N, Tran H, Fifis T, Kasptrappis G, Christophi C, Pellegrini M, Torresi J, Phesse TJ and Vincan E. The hepatitis B virus pre-core protein p22 activates Wnt signaling. Cancers 12:1435 (2020) IF 6.162, SJR 2

Research Projects

For project inquiries, contact our research group head.

Faculty Research Themes

Infection and Immunology, Cancer

School Research Themes

Cancer in Medicine, Ageing, Child Health in Medicine, Women's Health, Infectious Diseases and Immunity

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact Research Group Leader Professor Elizabeth Vincan

Department / Centre

Infectious Diseases

Unit / Centre

Molecular Oncology

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