Associate Professor Rachel Allavena

Deputy Head of School

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

Overview

Associate Professor Rachel Allavena is a multidisciplinary researcher with a major interest in research and teaching 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 immunotherapies, 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 the lead diagnostic anatomic pathologist in the UQ School of Veterinary Science Veterinary Laboratory Service, and in her professional capacity she oversees 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 natural envenomations, biometallic implants, 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 has an active media profile and has been featured in national and international media including The Conversation, ABC national and regional radio and TV news, Toowoomba Chronicle, The Veterinarian magazine, and UQ News.

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. We are starting a new trial funded by charity Canine Cancer Alliance in 2020 https://www.ccralliance.org/ Dog trial email. r.allavena@uq.edu.au Dog trial facebook https://www.facebook.com/UQdogcancerIT
  • ARC Research Hub for Advanced Manufacturing of Medical Devices (2016–2021)
    The project aims to transform Australia's $10.8Bn medical technology sector by developing cost competitive technologies for the rapid production of personalised devices for Endovascular Aneurysm Repair (EVAR). To ensure that the Australian industry remains globally competitive, the Hub seeks to concurrently develop materials, technologies and flexible manufacturing processes. The intended outcomes include more efficient design and manufacturing processes and a new range of EVAR products generating increased market share and higher workforce capability. The resulting impacts are better health outcomes, job creation and providing SMEs with new technologies and skills that can be transferred to the manufacture of products for other sectors. https://researchers.uq.edu.au/research-project/29042
  • 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. We co-developed the medical record database KoalaBASE https://www.koalabase.com.au/Default.aspx used by the Queensland State government Department of Environment and Science to track koala disease and injury through Queensland, monitoring population health and planning interventions to conserve koalas.
  • The pathology of natural tick and snake envenomations in companion animals
    Tick and snake envenomations are major causes of companion animal death in Australia. Owners are devastated when returning home to find a pet gravely ill or dead from snake bite. Treatments are expensive, mortality is high, and little is known about the pathology caused by these venomous animals. I am aiming to develop an immunohistochemical test that proves fatal envenomation by snakes and ticks at autopsy.

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. I am proud to receive international philanthropic support from Canine Cancer Alliance https://www.ccralliance.org/ and local support from the Kibble trust and Canine Research Fund.

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. 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 Matthew Weston on matthew.weston@uq.net.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 Philosophy

  • Doctor Philosophy

  • Master Philosophy

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Publications

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

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

Current Supervision

Completed Supervision