16 July 2013
Dr Tim Mercer has won the 2013 Young Garvan Award. The annoucement was made on Saturday night at Young Garvan’s main annual fundraising event, the “All Ribbons Ball”, held this year at Sydney’s Hilton Hotel.
A volunteer group of young professionals, Young Garvan informs and inspires the younger generation about Garvan’s medical research. The Young Garvan Award is the main fundraising aim of the group, and provides $50,000 each year towards supporting an early career scientist.
This year, Dr Phillippa Taberlay and Dr Daniel Hesselson, were also awarded a special initiative grant of $10,000 each.
Dr Mercer completed his PhD with Professor John Mattick and continued postdoctoral work within Garvan’s RNA Biology and Plasticity laboratory from late 2012. Dr Mercer’s research uses genomics and bioinformatics to investigate pathways of RNA processing and splicing.
Genes are made up of ‘exons’ and ‘introns’ – the former being the sequences that code for protein and are expressed, and the latter being stretches of noncoding DNA in-between. As the genes are copied, or ‘transcribed’, from DNA into RNA, the intron sequences are cut or ‘spliced’ out and the remaining exons are strung together to form a sequence that encodes a protein. Depending on which exons are strung together, the same gene can generate different proteins.
RNA splicing pathways are commonly mutated in cancer, resulting in aberrant RNA processing, which affects many prominent oncogenes, including those that are centrally involved in Chronic Lymphocytic Leukaemia (CLL), Myelodysplasia (MDS) and a range of other cancers.
Dr Mercer’s project to be supported by the Young Garvan will use a new technology known as ‘RNA CaptureSeq’, which he co-developed with Roche, to investigate the splicing reaction in CLL and MDS.
“A large number of leukemias have a mutation in the protein which appears to responsible for aberrant splicing,” said Dr Mercer. “This one mutation can affect the splicing of many genes and contribute to cancer.”
“I am delighted that Young Garvan has chosen to support my work, and very excited with the funding to proceed with the investigation of these RNA pathways in MDs and CLL.”