Garvan researchers scoop up ASMR awards

13 June 2007

At the annual Australian Society of Medical Research NSW scientific meeting, Garvan researchers took home three major awards.

Kate Patterson who works on ovarian cancer received the 'Best Student Poster Prize'; Dr Samantha Oakes, who studies genes involved in mammary gland development, obtained the 'Best Postdoctoral Poster Prize'; and Dr Alex Swarbrick won the prestigious University of Sydney Medal for Research Excellence.

Alex recently returned to Garvan, where he did his PhD, to set up his own research group. His two main areas of interest are breast cancer metastasis and the role of micro RNAs in cancer.

Alex is particularly excited about micro RNAs - sequences which lie in the parts of DNA that we used to think of as 'junk'. "We've always thought of RNAs as messengers, not as functional entities in their own right" said Alex.

"We now know that RNAs regulate other genes adding a whole layer of control to gene regulation. They can even control whole suites of genes at once."

"It would seem that micro RNAs have developed as we've become complex organisms. Bacteria for example don't have them. So far we know of hundreds in humans - but some people predict there could be tens of thousands. They work in a way we've never encountered before - and that's what's so exciting. We're just starting to develop tools to study their involvement in human diseases like cancer" says Alex.