Dr Wilson Castillo-Tandazo awarded the 2021 TJ Martin Medal


Pictured: Dr Wilson Castillo-Tandazo  

After completing his rotation as a medical intern on an oncology ward in Ecuador, South American-born Dr Wilson Castillo-Tandazo instantly knew he wanted to work on ways to improve the quality of life for cancer patients.

His time in the oncology department also inspired his doctoral study titled ‘Determining the impact of RECQL4 mutations on normal homeostasis, tumour development, and functional genetic interactions’ – research that earned him the 2021 TJ Martin Medal.

Now in its 16th year, this prestigious award is presented to the author of the best PhD study by a St Vincent’s campus researcher over the past 12 months, as chosen by a panel of independent judges.

Honoured to have his research recognised Dr Castillo-Tandazo describes the moment he heard the news he was this year’s recipient as both exciting and special.

“Receiving the TJ Martin Medal really validates how important research is, especially for those areas that have been forgotten, like bone cancer,” he says.

Although completing his PhD has been a career highlight, he did have to navigate some difficult moments along the way.

“Doing my PhD has been very challenging, especially since I had to leave my home, family and friends in Ecuador to pursue my study here, says Dr Castillo-Tandazo, who moved to Australia in 2017.

“Having to write a thesis of more than 200 pages in my second language, English, also presented some early challenges but I have had great support from my PhD supervisors.”

The PhD focus

Dr Castillo-Tandazo’s thesis primarily focused on the study of mutations that affect patients with Rothmund-Thomson syndrome – a disease commonly found in children.

“About 30 per cent of children with this disease develop bone tumours and sadly, the mortality rate is quite high,” says Dr Castillo-Tandazo.

His PhD study used novel genetic techniques to identify important areas of a protein called RECQL4, affected in this disease. Furthermore, it discovered molecules that interact with this protein to directly target these bone tumours, and so far, the preliminary findings are promising.

“Potentially these molecules could be used to make a drug that will help improve the treatment of bone cancer patients. It is very early days but that would be our hope someday for the future,” says Dr Castillo-Tandazo, who undertook his PhD at St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research.

The TJ Martin Medal

The medal’s namesake, Professor TJ ‘Jack’ Martin, a former Professor of Medicine at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and Director of St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research, announced Dr Castillo-Tandazo as this year’s TJ Martin Award recipient during ACMD Research Week.

Professor Martin, an eminent physician scientist in the field of bone cell biology, was made an Order of Australia in 1996 and holds Fellowships of the Royal Society and the Australian Academy of Science.

ACMD Research Week is an annual event hosted by St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne to celebrate and recognise medical innovation and research excellence led by various teams across the hospital and from ACMD partners.

Visit the ACMD website to learn more about the ground-breaking research projects being led by the Centre’s partners.