Dr Rachel Allavena

Associate Professor

School of Veterinary Science
Faculty of Science
r.allavena@uq.edu.au
+61 7 54601 826

Overview

Associate Professor Rachel Allavena has a major research and teaching interest in pathology, toxicology and laboratory animal science. She is well recognised for her research contributions in cancer treatment using pet dogs with natural cancer to develop new therapies, and the conservation of Queensland's koala population. She is a board certified veterinary anatomic pathologist with the American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP) and a registered specialist veterinary anatomic pathologist with the Veterinary Surgeon's board of Queensland through the Australian Veterinary Boards Council. She is a senior pathologist in the UQ School of Veterinary Science Veterinary School Diagnostic Service, and in her professional capacity as a specialist she has overseen cases for Racing Queensland, Queensland Police and RSPCA Queensland.

Dr Allavena has a PhD in Comparative Medicine from Cornell Univesity in New York. She has worked in drug safety research and development in the pharmaceutical industry in preclinical safety testing and discovery research. Her research interests are strongly focused on comparative and translational medicine and animal model validation and development in rodents and dogs. Her major research projects include developing novel cancer immunotherapics and diagnostics for pet dogs naturally suffering from cancer both as a veterinary therapy and comparative model for human cancer. She is co-Principal Investigator in a project investigating the causes of koala morbidity and mortality which are driving the decline of koala populations in SEQLD. She has wide ranging research collaborations specialising in the pathological assessment and study design for animal models in a variety of areas including novel therapeutics, drug safety, toxicology, and animal welfare in laboratory animals and domestic species.

Dr Allavena has a major interest in graduate student and pathology trainee mentorship. She currently supervises RHD students and pathology trainees preparing the American College of Veterinary Pathologists board examination. She teaches into the undergraduate BSc, BVSc, and BVetTech courses for pathology, laboratory animal science and toxicology. She was awarded a Faculty of Science Teaching Excellence Award in 2015. She is the National Secretary for the Pathobiology chapter of ANZCVS, and was national secretarty for the Australian Society of Veterinary Pathologists from 2014-2016. She has served NHMRC panels for post-graduate medical scholarships and is an Australian representative on the International Veterinary Pathology Coalition.

A/Prof Allavena's research has been featured in the Toowoomba Chronicle, The Veterinarian magazine, UQ News, and on ABC 612 radio breakfast with Spencer Howson.

Research Interests

  • Novel immunotherapeutic methods for the treatment of cancer in dogs
    Along with collaborators at USyd and ANU we are currently investigating new methods of stimulating the immune system in dogs suffering from a variety of cancers, with the hope of improving survival times and quality of life. To date one model has resulted in induced regressions of terminal incurable tumours in 20% pet dogs naturally suffering from cancer. Dog trial email. r.allavena@uq.edu.au Dog trial facebook https://www.facebook.com/UQdogcancerIT
  • Development of theranostics for brain cancer in pet dogs
    Brain cancer is a devastating disease in dogs and people. We are looking for proteins expressed by brain cancer in dogs and people, so we can develop novel treatments to this horrible disease. My collaborators and I will design 'theranostics' which stands for therapy + diagnostics which bind to proteins highly expressed by the brain tumours, allowing us to see there the tumour is on PET-CT and then also deliver targeted treatment right to the tumour's location.
  • Morbidity and mortality in SE Queensland Koala populations
    Dr Joerg Henning and I are currently researching the major causes of death, injury and disease which are causing a dramatic decline in the SE QLD koala population using pathologic and epidemiologic approaches.
  • Pathology support for animal models
    I collaborate with a number of researchers in the areas of equine therapeutics, novel drug development, toxicology, and animal welfare to help design and assess studies in their animal models.

Research Impacts

Cancer is common and devastating in our pet dogs and causes heartache for their families. As a veterinary pathologist and immunologist my understanding of disease and immunity drives cures for cancer. For many decades, science relied on mice to help us research cancer, but treatments that work fantastic in mice frequently fail in human patients. My research takes a different approach. I use pet dogs with natural cancer and no hope for other treatments to develop new cancer therapies. Dog cancer is similar in appearance, behaviour, genetics and environmental causes to human cancers. I test novel theranostics and immunotherapy treatments. Because dog and human cancer is so similar, dogs provide excellent safety and efficacy data on our treatments. My treatments have cured pets, and are now helping human patients.

Dogs and humans share a special bond, and sadly the cancers that dogs and people develop are very similar. My research group looks at several major common and devastating cancers in pet dogs shared with people; brain cancer, lymphoma, melanoma and others. We are conducting trials on novel immunotherapies, which aim to 'wake up' the dog's immune system so it realizes the cancer is there and starts to destroy it. Our treatments include injections into the cancer and vaccinations. Our intratumoural injection resulted in 20% of the dogs being cured of their cancer. These dogs were no longer sick, and their cancer melted away. These dogs also had much longer with their families. Two of our patients were told they only had 2-3 months to live but they survived 12 and 17 months. The data from these dogs has helped start a hospital trial in human patients with advanced cancer. Another project I have looks at dogs with brain cancer, a devastating disease with few treatment options for pets and tragic outcomes. Brain cancer is the biggest killer of children and people under 40 than any other type of cancer. We examine dog brain tumours for 'biomarkers', molecules expressed in high amounts by the tumour that are similar to those expressed in human brain cancer. Our goal is to develop a 'theranostic', which stands for therapy plus diagnostic, which both detects the tumour on medical imaging and treats it in a targeted fashion. Ideally, our biomarkers will guide our drug or radiation treatment right to the cancer and away from normal tissue, so there are less side effects and better results than normal radiation or chemotherapy. We only use volunteer pet dogs who have naturally developed their cancer and have no hope for other cures. The pets get to stay with their owners throughout their treatment, which we know is safe for them and their families. Because the cancer in these dogs is natural, it interacts with the dog's body and immune system in a very similar way to how a human cancer does damage. For this reason, we are confident about how well our treatments work, and how safe they will be when they are used to treat human patients. By conducting research on pet dogs with natural cancer, we help the dog, its family and the human patients who will benefit from these new therapies. Dogs are man's best friend in so many ways, and they can help us cure cancer too.

We are currently recruiting dogs suffering from mast cell tumour (mastocytoma), lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, malignant melanoma and adenocarcinoma (mammary and apocrine anal sac). Dogs must have a diagnosis and be referred by their current veterinary surgeon to participate in the trial. Please contact PhD student and veterinarian Dr Annika Oksa on a.oksawalker@uq.edu.au

Along with A/Prof Joerg Henning, A/Prof Allavena also co-leads KoalaBASE and KoalaSAFE. These projects have identified the major drives behind the serious decline in South East Queensland's koala population. They have published papers in Scientific Reports, Preventative Veterinary Medicine, and J Comparative Pathology on koala conservation.

Qualifications

  • Veterinary Anatomic Pathologist
  • Graduate Certificate in Higher Education, The University of Queensland
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Comparative Medicine, Cornell University
  • Graduate Diploma in Anatomic Pathology, University of Guelph
  • Bachelor of Veterinary Science (Honours), The University of Queensland
  • Bachelor of Veterinary Biology, The University of Queensland

Publications

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Supervision

  • Doctor Veterinary Clinical Sci

  • Doctor Philosophy

  • Master Philosophy

View all Supervision

Publications

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Note for students: Dr Rachel Allavena is not currently available to take on new students.

Current Supervision

  • Doctor Veterinary Clinical Sci — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Master Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Master Philosophy — Principal Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Veterinary Clinical Sci — Associate Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

    Other advisors: