15 November 2013
Dr Angela Chou and Lee Marshall share this year’s $10,000 USD Castle Harlan Award for being the most outstanding early career PhD students at the Garvan Institute in 2013.
The award can be used for anything that might help career development, such as travel to overseas conferences or laboratories. Castle Harlan Inc. is a US-based private equity firm that wishes to support the kind of medical research being undertaken at Garvan. The award was presented this morning by Mr Leonard Harlan (Chairman, Executive Committee of Castle Harlan Inc).
Pathologist Angela Chou has been performing a detailed analysis of two potentially treatable subtypes of pancreatic cancer. One subtype expresses amplified levels of the HER2 gene. HER2-amplified breast and gastric cancers are currently treated with Herceptin.
The second subtype reponds well to a new type of drug (a small-molecule cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor) in preclinical studies and has already shown promising results in clinical trials for breast cancer. When delivered in tandem with Gemcitabine, a chemotherapy agent most commonly used for pancreatic cancer, the combination has a synergistic effect.
In both cases, Angela has undertaken a detailed histopathological analysis and produced laboratory testing guidelines for specific biomarkers.
Lee Marshall is undertaking a genome-wide study of several regions of the brain that confer susceptibility to Parkinson’s Disease, to find biomarkers that might be used to screen for the disease at an early stage and to identify potential therapeutic targets.
Around 10% of people who develop Parkinson’s disease inherit it, and develop symptoms at an early age. The other 90% have no known cause to the disease and develop gradual degradation of certain brain regions with age.
By the time someone develops major Parkinson’s symptoms, the disease is already at an advanced stage, and much neuronal damage will have occurred.
Recent genome-wide association studies have compared the DNA of thousands of healthy people with the DNA of Parkinson’s patients. Lee will be undertaking an in-depth analysis of this data, with a particular focus on long non-coding RNAs.
Long non-coding RNAs are complex molecules, produced from a DNA blueprint, that appear to play regulatory roles in the body. Unlike conventional genes, they do not make proteins (which carry out specific functions in cells). Instead, they seem to act by regulating how and when other genes are expressed and when some already produced proteins are released into the cell.
Ultimately, Lee hopes to identify specific long non-coding RNA molecules that can be used to diagnose Parkinson’s at an early stage, and can then be targeted in its treatment.
Lee will be using his award money to travel to Keystone symposia on long non-coding RNAs and on Parkinson’s Disease, both being held in the United States next year. Angela will travel to cancer research meetings, but has yet to determine which would most benefit her career.