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Become a sponsor and enjoy wide media exposure, naming rights to key fund raising events and the satisfaction of helping change the outcome for children diagnosed with brain tumours.

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Tax Deductibility

The Sydney Children's Hospital Foundation is endorsed as a deductible gift recipient by the Australian Taxation Office. If you wish to have your donation receipted, please send an email detailing the amount donated, date, name and address along with the reference BWILLSD.

Research Program Update -August 2018

The research team have continued to grow the first ever Australian research platform for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas (DIPG). The team of scientists, researchers, students and technicians is the only one of its kind in Australia, and is now one of the largest DIPG research teams in the world.

The team continue to understand more and more about the biology of DIPG and are using this knowledge to try to develop more effective treatments. An important part of their focus is on developing effective combination treatments as it is unlikely that any drug on its own will be active enough to defeat this aggressive cancer. 

In an exciting first for Australia, the team have started a unique 'personalised medicine' trial for children with high risk tumours, including DIPG. This means that, for the first time ever in Australia, biopsies are now routinely performed on most children with DIPG. This is allowing the analysis of each child's individual tumour in order to identify new treatments for each patient, and to help with future research. The analysis is carried out in such depth that the information gathered is enough to fill a book with 2,500,000 pages for each child! 

Computer programs are used to search through this data and help find potential treatments. The researchers have already found unexpected changes within different tumours which have allowed them to direct children to different therapies in an effort to help control their tumours. For the first time ever, this has started to see DIPG tumours shrink when the child is given personalised treatment and an improvement in the child's strength and function. The team is now partnering with international trials teams around the world to put their respective information together and learn as much as possible from this process. 

The team also continue to develop new laboratory models for DIPG and have joined with leading researchers from around the world to share each other's models. Together, over 50 different models have been developed, providing unique research to help tackle, and eventually beat, this deadly disease. 

Finally, the team continue to work in the laboratory on new breakthrough treatments. One of these treatments is based on a natural compound called parthenolide. The team have partnered with a Chinese company who is manufacturing a synthetic form of parthenolide and are about to start a world-first clinical trial of this compound, specifically for patients with DIPG. Australian children will be the first in the world to receive this new treatment. There are several other exciting new discoveries that the team are working on and they plan to open further clinical trials in the next few years. 

With thanks for the support we have received, the team are changing the way DIPG is thought about, diagnosed and treated. We won't rest until we have beaten this deadly disease - TOGETHER we can do it!

Research Program Update - May 2017

We have continued to grow the first ever Australian research platform for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas (DIPG). Our team of scientists, researchers, students and technicians is the only one of its kind in Australia, and is now one of the largest DIPG research teams in the world.

We continue to understand more and more about the biology of DIPG and are using this knowledge to try to develop more effective treatments. An important part of our focus in on developing effective combination treatments as it is unlikely that any drug on its own will be active enough to defeat this aggressive cancer.

We are currently focused on four different ways of targeting DIPG tumours: epigenetic drivers, cell cycle regulators, tumour cell metabolism and growth factors. We have also been successful in using the funds raised through the Benny Wills Gala Dinner to leverage further funding from the government for research. At the end of 2016 we were fortunate to receive a $600,000 grant co-sponsored by Cancer Australia, the NSW Cancer Council and the Kids Cancer Project. The grant was a recognition of our cutting edge research and of the potential to make a difference to DIPG treatment in the future. One of our young researchers, Dr Han Shen, was also awarded a prestigious National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) young investigator award for his breakthroughs looking at ways of making DIPG more sensitive to radiation therapy.

Here are some of the different ways we are trying to target DIPG:

Epigenetic mechanisms: there is growing evidence that the reason DIPG is so aggressive is that thousands of different genes are switched on or off at the same time by the activation of 'master switches' that control vast areas of DNA within the cell. We are focused on trying to develop new therapies that reverse these changes and thus stop the cells from growing. The first trial for this type of treatment may be open next year.

Cell cycle inhibitors: Dr Laura Franshaw is one of our promising young scientists who has discovered that drugs that target the cell cycle are particularly effective for DIPG. She just received a prestigious Cancer Institute of NSW grant to develop these discoveries further. Just the tiniest amount of drug can completely stop DIPG cells from growing in the test tube. This work has been selected for a prestigious oral presentation at an international childhood brain tumour meeting in New York in June.

Metabolism: DIPG cells appear to be addicted to sugar. Blocking the way sugar is used in the cells appears to make them much, much more sensitive to radiation therapy. As radiation therapy is still the only treatment that we know has any effect against DIPG, if we can make it work more effectively this could be a really important breakthrough, and one that can rapidly change the way every DIPG patient is treated in the future.

Growth factors are switched on in DIPG. Our research team is looking into different ways to switch them off as another potential therapy.

With a massive thanks to everyone who has sponsored and supported the Benny Wills Brain Tumour Research Program - this community sponsorship remains the most important source of funding to allow us to continue our research.

Research Program Update - January 2013

From Dr David Ziegler:

Thanks to your support, we have initiated the first ever research program in Australia into Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas. Over the past two years we have made several exciting break throughs. We have, for the first time in Australia, successfully grown DIPG tumour cells in the test tube. We have initiated a national protocol to allow for donation of brain tumours for research after a child has died, and have successfully grown tumour cells from donated tumour specimens.

This critical development has allowed us to perform our first experiments to identify new drugs that may be active against this devastating tumour. We have performed the world's first robotic screen for DIPG, using state of the art technology that can test thousands of new drugs for their ability to destroy these tumour cells.

To date we have screened over 3,500 drugs and identified several compounds that appear to be extremely active against the tumour cells and represent potential new and effective treatments. We are currently working hard to follow these leads and, with your ongoing support hope to be able to rapidly make these new treatment discoveries available for children diagnosed with this aggressive brain tumour.

Thank you again for your ongoing support - it is already making a difference to the future of children diagnosed with DIPG.

DIPG neurospheres
DIPG cells after exposure to 'DRUG X'
David and Imogen Wills with Dr David Ziegler and Maria Tsoli - May 2012

Research Program Update - May 2012

Since commencing in 2010, there have already been some remarkable advances made in the Brain Stem Glioma Research Program. Please read on for the latest update from Dr David Ziegler.

A full-time research assistant, Maria Tsoli, was appointed to work on this project in October 2012. Maria was selected from over 20 highly qualified applicants and has a high level of laboratory experience and skills.

In addition to funds raised through the Benny Wills Gala Dinner, additional funding has been obtained including a substantial grant from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. This funding means that Maria is able to work full-time on this project and is currently the only research assistant in Australia dedicated solely to finding new treatment for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Gliomas (DIPG).

Funding to date has allowed for the purchase of all culture materials required to successfully grow DIPG neurospheres in the laboratory. These cells require very specific conditions to allow them to proliferate, and materials have been sourced from scientific suppliers nationally and internationally.

Maria has initially worked on optimising culture techniques using adult derived Glioblastoma neurospheres. This has successfully been completed and helped optimise the conditions in the laboratory to start growing DIPG cells.

Dr Ziegler and Maria have successfully grown DIPG neurospheres in the laboratory. These are slow to grow and require diligent attention, but there has been great success with the rigorously optimised conditions. See top image for the first DIPG cells cultured in Australia.They have also successfully optimised their 'control' experiments using a compound which will enable them to complete the efficacy of novel drugs in killing DIPG cells. This will be the benchmark used against which to compare other therapies.

Another exciting advance has been the testing of a new compound, 'DRUG X' which is currently being tested in a variety of adult cancers including brain cancers. Its spectrum of activity, particularly on high grade gliomas, led Dr Ziegler to consider that it may be active against DIPG cells. As you can see from the subsequent image, it completely eliminates DIPG cells at very low concentrations. These are very exciting results and Dr Ziegler and Maria plan on conducting a series of further experiments to determine whether this may be a drug that can ultimately be brought to clinical trail to test in children with this disease.

DIPG cells are being continuously grown in the lab to generate the millions of cells required to perform a robotic screen of thousands of molecules. Dr Ziegler and Maria have begun testing conditions in 96 well plates to determine the optimal way to perform the robotic screen and to ensure that the results are reliable and reproducible when repeated thousands of times across thousands of different compounds. It is anticipated that they will initiate the first screen of clinically tested and available compounds within the next 1-2 months.

The autopsy protocol entitled High Throughput Robotic Diffuse Pontine Glioma Screen (HoTRODS) has been completed. It has been submitted to the Australian and New Zealand Children's Haematology and Oncology Group and been approved for national implementation. A study team has been formed with investigators from every major hospital in Australia. The study consent forms have been written and the project has now been submitted for ethical approval in NSW. Once this is achieved, it will be submitted nationally for ethical approval and patient enrolment.

Overview of Research Program

The following is an excerpt from the scoping document authored by Dr David Ziegler and the Sydney Children's Hospital Foundation, regarding the establishment of a brain stem glioma research program using funds raised by the inaugural Benny Wills Gala Dinner.



The inaugural Benny Wills Golf Day and Dinner was held in September 2010 in memory of Benny Wills. The event raised almost $40,000 for the Brain Tumour Fund at Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick. Benny's parents Imogen and Dave plan to hold the event again in 2011 and continue into the future, in particular to support research into a cure for brain tumours. Funds raised at the 2010 and future Dinners will provide seed funding for the pilot Brain Stem Glioma Research Program, the first of its kind in Australia.

 The Research Program will focus on obtaining autopsy samples of Brain Stem Gliomas in children from around Australia to investigate their nature and seek an effective treatment.


Conduct initial research into, and treatment of, Brain Stem Gliomas in children, in order to assess the viability of a longer-term Research Program.

Chief Investigator

Dr David Ziegler, Staff Specialist Oncologist, Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick

Additional Personnel

The Research Program will see the appointment of a Research Assistant, whose role will be the investigation and treatment of Brain Stem Gliomas in children.


An annual reporting document will be provided by the Chief Investigator via Sydney Children's Hospital Foundation to Imogen and Dave Wills. This will be available via newsletter to those that sign up to the Benny Wills Brain Tumour Research Program website.


The support of the Benny Wills Gala Dinner will be recognised in the name of the research - The Benny Wills Brain Stem Glioma Research Program. Sydney Children's Hospital Foundation will also recognise the Benny Wills Gala Dinner in its annual report and as a Bronze partner.

Dr David Ziegler

Dr David Ziegler is a paediatric oncologist with expertise in neuro-oncology and early phase clinical trials. Dr Ziegler completed his clinical training in paediatric oncology, haematology and bone marrow transplant at Sydney Children's Hospital. From 2005 - 2007 he was awarded a Fullbright Scholarship to pursue a research fellowship at the Dana Faber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital, Boston. His research focused on the preclinical development and clinical translation of novel therapies for paediatric brain tumours.

Since 2007, Dr Ziegler has been appointed as Staff Specialist in the Centre of Children's Cancer & Blood Disorders at Sydney Children's Hospital. He has established and is the head of the Cancer Therapies Unit - a clinical trails unit specifically established to develop early phase clinical trails for children with cancer. He has concurrent appointments as Clinical Fellow at the Children's Cancer Institute Australia (CCIA), and conjoint senior lecturer at the University of New South Wales. His preclinical research focuses on therapeutic targeting of the apoptotic pathway  in malignant gliomas. Within the CCIA he has also established a translational research group to directly facilitate the extension of preclinical discoveries from the laboratory to the bedside.