06 November 2014
Laura Baker has received the $10,000 USD Castle Harlan Award for being the most outstanding early career PhD student at the Garvan Institute in 2014.
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 afternoon by Mr Leonard Harlan (Chairman, Executive Committee of Castle Harlan; a member of the Executive Committee of CHAMP Private Equity, the Australian affiliate of Castle Harlan; and President of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research’s Friends of US Board of Directors).
A member of Garvan’s Tumour Progression lab, Laura is investigating aggressive ‘basal-like’ breast cancers, for which few treatments exist. Specifically, she is exploring the regulatory mechanisms underlying which genes are activated, and which are silenced, in these basal-like tumours.
Laura is particularly interested in the protein ‘Id4’, which is abundant in a sub-group of tumours. It has been shown that high levels of Id4 in patient tumours are associated with poor response to chemotherapy and shorter survival.
To track the complex behaviour of Id4, Laura is using sophisticated techniques that combine immunoprecipitation (using antibodies that bind to ID4) with Mass Spectrometry. These techniques allow her to identify the interactions that take place between Id4 and other proteins in cancer cells, as well show which Id4-protein complexes bind to specific regions of DNA.
So far, Laura has shown in ‘cell lines’ (in the laboratory) that Id4 interacts with around 100 other proteins, some much more than others. Her next task will be to compare that data with Id4 interactions in tissue samples from patients.
Laura will be using the Castle Harlan Award to visit close collaborator Professor Wayne Tilley at the School of Medicine, University of Adelaide - an expert in the specific techniques Laura is using.
She will also use her prize to attend the Gordon Research Seminar on ‘Hormone-Dependent Cancers’ to be held in Maine (US) in August 2015, an event she believes will be especially useful for early career researchers like her.