Alice Salib, a PhD student who is part of a laboratory team funded by The Kids’ Cancer Project, spoke at UNSW Paediatrics Week 2018 in Sydney last month.
The sharp new scientist presented work that has been taking place in the UNSW Australia lab to improve treatments for children diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma since funding commenced in 2016.
“While I was doing my Masters of Research at Western Sydney University my interest was sparked in pursuing a career in cancer research,” said Salib. “But it was the experience of being a Camp Quality volunteer that drove my real interest in childhood cancer.”
Alice Salib pictured right with fellow student Ane Kleynhans at the Western Sydney University are studying their Master of Research degrees in the field of molecular biology and genetics.
“Now as a PhD student working on a project focused on neuroblastoma, I have a newfound understanding and appreciation for the struggles that families go through,” she said.
Read more: Targeting fact to inhibit MYCN driven transcription in neuroblastoma.
“Neuroblastoma is a very complex childhood cancer,” said Salib. “A sub-population of patients diagnosed with high-risk neuroblastoma have a survival rate of less than 40 per cent.”
“Amplification, or mutation, of a gene called MYCN
means the tumour is very aggressive. By regulating several biological pathways, MYCN
can lead to cancer cell growth and metastasis. MYCN
amplification occurs between 20 and 30 per cent of all patients diagnosed with neuroblastoma,” she said.
Unfortunately, as the PhD student explained, an aggressive chemotherapy regime is often the only treatment option, which results in terrible side effects with devastatingly, little success. New treatments are urgently needed.
“Our lab is taking a deep dive into the molecular machinery responsible for this protein diversity in the effort to discover new ways to treat for neuroblastoma and address MYCN mutation,” said Salib.
A molecular machine refers to any discrete number of molecular components that produce quasi-mechanical movements (output) in response to specific stimuli (input). In biology, macromolecular machines frequently perform tasks essential for life such as DNA replication
and ATP synthesis
“The spliceosome machinery (a large and complex molecular machine) is responsible for cutting out the non-protein coding regions of pre-mRNA, which can then be translated into proteins. However, depending on where the spliceosome cuts, different versions of proteins can be made from a single gene. It’s a process known as alternative splicing (see Figure),” said Salib.
“Our aim is to study the role of MYCN and how it controls the spliceosome machinery to promote more favourable alternative splicing that directs tumour development.”
Salib went on to say her hope, and that of the rest of the team in the lab, is that through this project they’ll not only identify new therapeutic targets but also increase their understanding of neuroblastoma biology.
“I count myself as extremely lucky and privileged to be studying at an institute that provides me with the opportunity to make a real, and hopefully significant, difference in children diagnosed with cancer and their families.”
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