Spinal Biology Laboratory

Group Leader Email Number Webpage
Gerald Quan gerald.quan@austin.org.au +61 3 9496 3903 View page

Research Overview

The Spinal Biology Laboratory is headed by Dr. Gerald Quan and is focused on two key areas; spinal cancer and traumatic spinal cord injury. This group includes clinicians and surgeons who represent the Victorian Spinal Cord Injuries service who work closely with the research team. In our cancer research work, we are investigating one of the most common sites of metastatic spread of cancer: the spinal column. Spinal metastases occur in all age groups, with the highest incidence between age 40 and 65 years. The most common primary cancer sources are breast, prostate and lung. Due to a worldwide increase of cancer incidence and to a longer life expectancy of cancer patients, the incidence is increasing. Since the vertebral column has structural load- bearing as well as spinal cord and nerve-protecting functions, metastatic involvement often leads to severe pain and/or paralysis and has serious adverse consequences on daily living and quality of life.

The research group has established a clinically relevant mouse model of spinal cancer that is utilised for characterising the cellular and molecular mechanisms mediating bone metastases and to investigate novel treatment methods. Secondly, we are investigating the severe health problem of spinal cord injury. It is a condition that usually involves lifelong disability and requires ongoing support services. Clearly, it is one of the most devastating survivable injuries an individual can suffer and it has immense social and economic impact on both the patient and our community. At present, no therapies exist that have had a significant impact on recovery of neurological function in injured patients. Our research will improve the understanding of the pathological processes of spinal cord injury and neuronal recovery and translate this into better clinical outcomes for patients with this devastating condition.

Patients with cancer will often eventually develop metastases to the spine, which is the most frequent site of skeletal metastases. Breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men are the most common primary sources. Since the vertebral column has structural load-bearing as well as spinal cord and nerve-protecting functions, involvement by cancer will inevitably lead to severe pain, paralysis and urinary or faecal incontinence. This in turn severely impacts on ambulatory function and overall quality of life. Surgery can restore stability to the spine and relieve spinal cord or nerve compression but is purely palliative and has associated morbidity.

Better understanding of the pathobiology behind tumour spread to the spine and subsequent growth and destruction within bone is essential to improve clinical outcomes in this large group of patients with metastatic cancer to the spine.


  • Dr. Gerald Quan, Head of Laboratory
  • Dr. Julia Gregory, Research Fellow
  • Ms. Effie Mouhtouris, Senior Research Assistant
  • Ms. Zumana Khair, Student (MBioMed Sci.)

Research Publications

Cossigny DA, Mouhtouris E, Dushyanthen S, Gonzalvo A, Quan GM. An in vivo mouse model of introsseous spinal cancer causing evolving paraplegia. J Neurooncol. 2013; 115(2):189-196.

Dushyanthen S, Cossigny D, Quan GM. The Osteoblastic & Osteoclastic Interactions in Spinal Metastases Secondary to Prostate Cancer. Cancer Growth and Metastasis. 2013; 27(6):61-80.

Roberts E, Cossigny D, Quan GM. The role of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) in metastatic prostate cancer to the spine, Prostate Cancer. 2013; DOI 12;2013:418340.

Research Projects

Faculty Research Themes


School Research Themes

Cancer in Medicine

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact Gerald Quan

Department / Centre


Unit / Centre

Spinal Biology Laboratory