Rex Elliot Wegener Memorial Fund for Mesothelioma Research :Rex Elliot Wegener Memorial Fund for Mesothelioma Research

Opening Date: 20-11-2020   Closing Date: 31-12-2022  


The Rex Elliot Wegener PhD Scholarship is a new research opportunity made possible through the generous donation made by Mrs Catherine Wegener in memory of her late husband Rex Elliot Wegener, who sadly passed away from malignant mesothelioma in 2017.

The Rex Elliot Wegener PhD Scholarship position will be supervised by Flinders University researcher, Associate Professor Klebe, and assist to advance our collective knowledge of treating patients with mesothelioma.

Asbestos is a global issue yet Australia has the world's highest incidence of malignant mesothelioma per capita, with more than 700 new cases diagnosed each year. In addition, it has been estimated that there were at least another 1,500 Australians have lung cancer caused by asbestos.  Asbestos was used extensively in Australian homes during the last century with devastating consequences for those exposed.

Research Project Details

Project 1 Characterising mesothelioma cancer stem cells

Malignant pleural mesothelioma is an aggressive asbestos-related tumour arising from the cells lining the lungs and chest wall. We see about 200 of the 700 mesotheliomas diagnosed in Australia every year.

Mesothelioma has an extremely poor prognosis, and to date, no targeted therapies are available. We perform molecular characterisation of these tumours and prepare organoids from patient-derived primary tumour cells.

Cancer stem cells are hypothesised to be a chief driver of therapy resistance and cancer recurrence due to their intrinsic therapeutic resistance as a result of high expression of multidrug transporters, heightened DNA damage checkpoint activation and repair enzyme expression and differences in cell-cycle kinetics.

This project will track live cancer stem cells in vitro and explore mechanisms of therapy response. This involves samples of patients enrolled in a clinical trial.

The successful candidate will characterise the role of cancer stem cells in mesothelioma in the context of therapy resistance.

The successful candidate with be well-supported in an integrated research laboratory with 2 postdocs, research officer support and ethics in place.

Project 2: Genomic profiling of rare subtypes of malignant mesothelioma

Malignant mesothelioma is subdivided into three predominant histological subtypes, epithelioid, biphasic and sarcomatoid, which account for 50-60%, 25-35% and 10-20% of all mesothelioma cases, respectively. In addition to these broad subtypes, there are many unusual variants of mesotheliomas that display different macroscopic or microscopic growth patterns or atypical histology including small cell malignant mesothelioma, localised mesothelioma, well-differentiated papillary mesothelioma, and in situ mesothelioma. Some of these subtypes have a distinctly worse prognosis than other types of mesothelioma, but the cause of this phenomenon is unknown.

Currently, very little is known about the genomic aberrations that contribute to the development of rare histological subtypes and anatomical variants of mesothelioma.

This project aims to identify genetic mutations in patients with rare subtypes of mesothelioma and to identify if they differ from the genetic mutations that arise in conventional mesothelioma. Through this research we aim to better understand the clincopathological characteristics of rare malignant mesothelioma subtypes and therefore understand if we can treat these patients in a more targeted way.


To support a PhD candidate who is researching in the area of Asbestos-related malignancies, namely Mesothelioma and lung cancer.


To be considered for the Rex Elliot Wegener PhD Scholarship, a student must:

  • meet PhD admission requirements including: have an Australian Honours degree Class 1 or 2A or equivalent qualification (at least AQF Level 8), including a research component of at least 6 months’ full-time study achieving Distinction (75%) OR including evidence of equivalent research experience
  • be intending to enrol Full time in a Higher Degree by Research at Flinders University
  • be intending to undertake research in an area that is relevant to the areas specified above

Tenure and Benefits

  • a stipend valued at $28,597pa (2021 rate) will be awarded and paid to the successful recipient over 3 years on a fortnightly basis;
  • a Research Training Program Fee Offset Scholarship to cover tuition fees for Australian Citizens, NZ Citizens and Permanent Residents;

The scholarship may be held independently or in conjunction with other scholarships. Receipt of the Rex Elliot Wegener scholarship does not preclude a candidate from applying for any other scholarship


Interested candidates are advised to contact the project Lead Investigator, Professor Sonja Klebe in the first instance to discuss the project, via email at:

Professor Klebe will provide applicants with the appropriate application form to apply their interest for the scholarship.


ADMISSION to Higher Degree by research

Those who apply for the scholarship opportunity that have not already applied for admission to a relevant HDR must also apply.  Instructions on how to apply for admission can be found here:

  • By lodging this separate application, applicants acknowledge:
  • The ‘Supervisor confirmation’ must refer to the application for this scholarship
  • The application for PhD admission will only be assessed where:
    • The applicant is successful in being awarded the scholarship
  • OR

The applicant confirms in the application for PhD admission that, if they are not successful in being awarded the scholarship, their supervisors agree that the project and enrolment can still proceed and the applicant agrees to this.

All other applications for PhD admission lodged in line with this scholarship opportunity will be not be assessed and will be withdrawn.


The successful candidate will ideally begin in early 2021, start date can be negotiated.



Scholarship Type: research, commencing,