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Tackling cancers through mystery molecules and genetic fingerprints

January 12, 2021

Using stem cell research to fight cancer has won two Australian researchers $55,000 each in the annual Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research, awarded by the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.

Dr Melanie Eckersley-Maslin—a new recruit of the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre—believes the proteins which control the growth of cells in embryos could teach us how to stop the uncontrolled growth of cells in cancer.

Vital to normal development in early life, these molecules may later play a role in the early stages of cancer or help it spread. If so, we could target them therapeutically and block or slow progression of the disease.

Read more about Melanie Eckersley-Maslin and her research.

Associate Professor Steven Lane of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute wants to lift the survival rates of his leukaemia patients. He thinks the key could lie in the genetic fingerprints of the blood cancer stem cells that proliferate the disease.

Steven is studying how these cells become resistant to treatment through genetic changes. He will use the knowledge to develop more effective and tailored therapies, both to prevent and treat potentially fatal relapses.

Read more about Steven Lane and his research.

The scientists have been recognised by the Foundation for their early-career leadership in stem cell research.

“Melanie Eckersley-Maslin and Steven Lane are taking two very different stem cell research approaches to understand, prevent and treat different types of cancer,” says Dr Graeme Blackman AO, the chairman of the Foundation.

The awards are named for the late Professor Donald Metcalf AC who, over a 50-year career, helped transform cancer treatment and transplantation medicine, paving the way for potential stem cell therapy in the treatment of many other conditions.

The 2020 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research will be formally presented by molecular biologist Professor Suzanne Cory AC FAA FRS at a special event in Melbourne on Monday 8 February 2021.

Images of Melanie and Steven and their research are available here.

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