Tackling cancers through mystery molecules and genetic fingerprints – Metcalf Prize winners announced
I am delighted to announce the two brilliant scientists who are the winners of the 2020 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research. They’re taking two different stem cell research approaches to fighting cancer.
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.
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.
Melanie and Steven will be presented with their prizes by molecular biologist Professor Suzanne Cory AC FAA FRS at a ceremony in Melbourne next month.
Each will receive a $55,000 prize from the Foundation. We hope that investing in their careers will advance Australian stem cell research and, importantly, improve the prognosis for cancer patients.
Read on to find out more about their research and achievements.
Dr Graeme L Blackman AO
Chairman, National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia
In this bulletin:
- Mystery molecules in cancer puzzle
- Genes may hold key to leukaemia survival
- Stem cell news from around the world
Can early development shed light on cancer growth?
Proteins which control the growth of cells in embryos could teach us how to stop the uncontrolled growth of cells that is the hallmark of cancer, thanks to work by molecular biologist Dr Melanie Eckersley-Maslin.
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.
In recognition of her leadership in the field, Melanie has received one of two annual $55,000 Metcalf Prizes from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.
After more than a decade studying stem cells in embryonic development, Melanie has just returned to Australia from the United Kingdom to lead a research group at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne.
She is initially focusing on a pair of protein molecules – developmental pluripotency-associated 2 (Dppa2) and Dppa4 – that are linked with early development of different cell types. In most cases they fall silent once their work is complete. However, they can reappear later in life in some cancers.
“Cancers take on some of the features of early development and that’s been known, but how this works isn’t fully understood,” she says.
The secret could be in the role of Dppa2 and Dppa4. Healthy embryonic cell development is tightly controlled. Once the cell type is determined the cells themselves do not change.
Brisbane scientist awarded for research into new blood cancer treatments
Clinical haematologist Associate Professor Steven Lane 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.
In recognition of his achievements, he has also been awarded a $55,000 Metcalf Prizes from the Foundation.
About 1000 Australians each year are diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), an aggressive form of blood cancer. Under current trends, three quarters of people with AML die within five years of diagnosis.
Steven’s lab at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane is tackling AML and other blood cancers. He also treats patients at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.
“Leukaemia often responds to chemotherapy initially, however the disease often comes back after this and we have very limited curative options,” he says.
“New treatment options are desperately needed.”
Steven’s work has focused on identifying the stem cell populations that give rise to leukaemia, and he wants to know how some cells respond to current therapeutic approaches and conversely, why some cancerous cells become resistant to treatment.
The Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research are named for the late Professor Donald Metcalf, AC. Over his 50-year career, Don helped transform cancer treatment and transplantation medicine, and paved the way for potential stem cell therapy in the treatment of many other conditions.
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