Molecular Genetics of Cancer

Molecular Genetics of Cancer

Colon, rolled and stained to identify proteins and DNA
The Molecular Genetics of Cancer division is investigating how our cells normally die and how defects in this process cause disease, particularly cancer.
Better understanding of cell death will help us to develop improved treatments for both cancers and immune disorders.

Visionary cancer research funded

Professor Andreas Strasser and Dr Marco Herold, with Professor Jane Visvader and Professor Geoff Lindeman from the ACRF Stem Cells and Cancer division, received a $1 million Cancer Council Victoria Metcalf Venture Grant to discover the processes that drive tumour development to help identify potential new anti-cancer targets.

The grant will enable the researchers to use CRISPR/Cas9 gene modification technology to search for novel tumour suppressor genes and pathways that are critical for cancer development in blood and breast cancers. 

As well as revealing new molecular targets for treating cancer, this information will have potential future applications for matching patients with the best treatment for their particular cancer type.

Novel cancer drug target

Targeting a cell ‘survival’ protein could help treat some lymphomas, including those cancers with genetic defects that make them resistant to many existing therapies. 

Dr Stephanie Grabow, Dr Alex Delbridge, Dr Liz Valente, Professor Andreas Strasser and colleagues found that removing the pro-survival protein MCL-1 killed lymphomainitiating cells and thereby prevented the development of this type of blood cell cancer.

This discovery, and the previous finding by Dr Gemma Kelly, other members of the Strasser laboratory and Dr Stefan Glaser that MCL-1 is essential for the sustained expansion of several other types of lymphoma and leukaemia, has led to a fruitful collaboration with the French pharmaceutical company Servier.

The collaboration is investigating how well a MCL-1-specific inhibitor kills various types of cancer cells. A major goal is to identify which cancers would be the best candidates for treatment in potential clinical trials of the inhibitor.

Inflammatory link discovered

Dr Philippe Bouillet, Dr Derek Lacey and colleagues discovered a potential link between excess production of inflammatory proteins that cause rheumatoid arthritis and the development of heart valve disease.

People with rheumatoid arthritis have too much of the protein TNF in their joints and in their blood. The team identified a previously unknown way that the body destabilises molecules during the process of TNF production to stop too much of the protein being made. The research could lead to improved treatments for rheumatoid arthritis and heart valve disease by developing agents that stop TNF production.

Health impact

Cancers: gastric cancers, leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma, myeloproliferative disorders, stomach cancer

Immune disorders: lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes

Other areas: personalised medicine

Division heads

Professor Andreas Strasser

Professor Jerry Adams

Lab heads

Dr Philippe Bouillet

Professor Suzanne Cory (honorary distinguished research fellow)

Dr Daniel Gray (jointly with Immunology)

Dr Marco Herold

Dr Ruth Kluck

Division coordinator

Catherine McLean

Michelle Birrell, Administrative Officer