“Over the course of my medical and postgraduate studies, I became fascinated by epigenetics and the role it plays in the development and treatment of cancer,” says Dr Andrew Das, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Pathology and Biomedical Science at the University of Otago Christchurch campus.
“Due to recent advances in technology, researchers can now look at the genetic mutations that lead to cancer in more detail than ever before,” he says as he focuses his investigations on developing new treatments for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a particularly aggressive form of blood cancer.
Although new drug targets have been identified, their success has been limited due to their inability to eradicate leukaemia stem cells. These cells often do not respond to chemotherapy and serve as the source of resistance in patients who do not respond.
“The current challenge in the field is to understand why resistance develops even when these specific, targeted drugs are,” says Dr Das. That’s where his research comes in.
Supported by the Cancer Research Trust NZ, Andrew, the recipient of the John Gavin Postdoctoral Fellowship (one of 16 new grants announced by Cancer Research Trust NZ in their latest grant round), will be spending two years at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute in Melbourne developing his epigenetic and bioinformatic expertise and using new tools to discover potential vulnerabilities in leukaemia stem cells.
“When these tools were used to study leukaemia, they found that many different pathways can lead to the same disease. Importantly, many of the problems arise in genes that regulate epigenetics,” says Dr Das.
“This is exciting because epigenetic changes are potentially reversible and new drugs have been developed to do this,”
“Ultimately, we plan to exploit these vulnerabilities and develop new treatments for AML.”
Dr Andrew Das joins 15 other recipients in the Cancer Research Trust NZ’s newly announced grant round. The grants, which total $891,000, are awarded to Kiwi researchers in order to initiate and accelerate promising cancer research in New Zealand. This is in addition to the grant round approved in March, which gave an overall commitment to fund $922,992 worth of projects for 2019.
Grants are recommended after an extensive review by a twelve-person Grants Assessment Committee, comprising of some of New Zealand’s most respected clinical and radiation oncologists, biomedical researchers, a psychologist and a senior palliative care nursing specialist.
JOHN GAVIN POSTDOCTORAL FELLOWSHIP
DR ANDREW DAS
The Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia