Otago scientist wins award for cancer research

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Otago scientist wins award for cancer research

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University of Otago scientist Dr Andrew Das has won the Roche Translational Cancer Research Fellowship to further his work as part of a research team investigating the role of epigenetics in leukaemia.

A Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Pathology at the University of Otago, Christchurch, Dr Das has been investigating the potential role of vitamin C as an epigenetic therapeutic in specific subtypes of acute myeloid leukaemia.

Various combinations of mutations can contribute to the development of myeloid leukaemia. One of the genes, TET2, participates in DNA demethylation. Research to date in animal and cell models has shown potential for vitamin C to reverse the negative effects of mutations in TET2, Dr Das explains.

The field of epigenetics has grown significantly in recent years with the availability of new genetic sequencing techniques and Dr Das says it is an exciting time to be involved in such research.

Determining which mutations are involved in any particular myeloid leukemia requires sophisticated analysis of the cancer gene sequence and this information is required to assist with diagnosis and to determine potential treatment options.

“Epigenetic changes are known to be involved in many leukemias and, when present, could indicate responsiveness to targeted treatments, including vitamin C supplementation,” Dr Das explains.

“This award will allow me to learn some of the experimental methods and bioinformatics analysis required to investigate epigenetic changes, such as DNA methylation.”

The Roche Research Fellowship,valued at $30,000, was first introduced by Roche in 2016. It provides a unique opportunity for New Zealand cancer research teams to upskill an integral team member, so that the team can work together more effectively to improve their research output.

Dr Das is delighted to receive the award. “I am very excited about the opportunities it affords. When I first started investigating myeloid leukaemia, I quickly realised that it’s critical to learn these new techniques – to get this experience is priceless.”

The award was announced this evening at the New Zealand Society for Oncology’s annual conference in Queenstown. NZSO President Dr Roslyn Kemp says the judges felt Dr Das’ work represents an emerging area of cancer research that already has clinical significance in blood cancers.

Dr Kemp, who is a University of Otago immunologist, received the inaugural award herself in 2016.

“Andrew is a clinically-trained researcher who will now be supported to translate his clinical skills into a fundamental cancer research programme,” Dr Kemp says.

“The advantage of the NZSO Roche Translational Cancer Research Fellowship is the flexibility it gives the awardee to explore new ideas and initiatives and Andrew will be able to further both his scientific development and his translational research ideas.”

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