Development and Cancer

Development and Cancer

Retina blood vessels
Researchers from the Development and Cancer division investigate mechanisms regulating cell growth and differentiation in normal embryonic development and in cancer. The molecular mechanisms underlying the rapid, but regulated, growth of cells during embryonic development are frequently deregulated in cancer.

Embryo blueprint revealed

Researchers identified two key proteins that act as genetic ‘architects’, creating the blueprint needed by embryos during the earliest stages of their development.

Dr Bilal Sheikh, Associate Professor Tim Thomas, Associate Professor Anne Voss and colleagues discovered that the proteins MOZ and BMI1 played opposing roles in giving developing embryos the set of instructions needed to ensure that body segments including the spine, nerves and blood vessels developed correctly and in the right place.

Substances or environmental challenges that impact MOZ or BMI1 expression severely aff ect the developing embryo’s ‘instructions’, and cause developmental defects.

Barrier to cancer

The cells of the intestinal lining provide a selective barrier between the external environment and internal tissues, allowing entry of water and nutrients while excluding microbes, toxins and dietary allergens. Impairment of this barrier can promote hypersensitivity to foods, inflammatory bowel disease and colitis-associated cancer.

Dr Ben Williams, Associate Professor Joan Heath and colleagues discovered that the intestinal cell surface protein and bowel cancer marker glycoprotein A33 (GPA33) contributes to the integrity of the intestinal barrier. In the absence of this molecule exposure to carcinogens and infl ammatory stimuli greatly increases the incidence of bowel tumours. Models with defects in GPA33 could be useful for testing potential drugs for treating infl ammatory bowel disease and bowel cancer.

Research excellence awarded

At the 2015 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Research Excellence Awards, division head Associate Professor Anne Voss received the Elizabeth Blackburn Fellowship Award for Biomedical Science. The award recognises the highest ranked female applicant in the NHMRC’s annual Research Fellowship scheme.

Associate Professor Voss has made significant contributions to the understanding of embryonic development, laying the foundations for the discovery of the genetic causes of human intellectual disability syndromes, as well as explaining the contribution of certain molecular pathways to cancer formation.

Health impact

Cancers: bowel cancer, gastric cancers, lung cancer, leukaemia, lymphoma, stomach cancer

Immune disorders: inflammatory bowel disease

Other areas: congenital diseases, epigenetics, regenerative medicine, vascular diseases

Division head

Associate Professor Anne Voss

Lab heads

Associate Professor Tim Thomas

Dr Leigh Coultas

Associate Professor Joan Heath

Division coordinator

Dr Tanya de Jong-Curtain