Using cutting edge techniques to predict response to new therapiesAugust 24th, 2017
Amid many cutting-edge techniques that Dr Delphine Merino uses in her research, her use of gene-editing tool CRISPR is exciting for its ability to speed up the pace of research.
Funded by the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Dr Merino worked on a new class of drug called ‘BH3 mimetics’ for the treatment of triple negative breast cancer, in the laboratory of Professor Geoff Lindeman and Professor Jane Visvader at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
Using cutting-edge techniques for breast cancer research
Part of her project involved using CRISPR, a cutting edge technique that has great potential for medical research. Its power lies in its ability to disable or ‘knock out’ genes in cells. CRISPR genome editing allows scientists to accelerate research into diseases such as cancer.
Dr Delphine Merino is fascinated by the mechanisms driving the life and death switch in cells. “Cancer cells manage to be extremely resistant to cell death, which allows them to invade the body, resist to the attack of the immune system and resist treatment. The challenge for us is to find a drug, at the right dose, that will kill these cells, without affecting normal cells,” she says.
In collaboration with experts in this field, she used the gene editing technique to delete different components of the cells to see the effect on cell death when exposed to treatment. The goal is to find out what genes are important for survival and death of the cancer cell and find new treatments that target these cells.
Through a process of elimination, they found that if a certain gene (called BAK) is removed the cells do not die when treated with some BH3 mimetics. In a real world sense, this could mean that people with low levels of this gene or who lack it altogether may not respond to this treatment.
Why is this research important?
This knowledge will ultimately lead towards more targeted treatments for women with breast cancer, fitting specific treatments to the specific genetic makeup of their tumour to get the best likelihood of a more positive outcome.
The work is being done in human cells so Dr Merino anticipates that the results could be applied on a larger scale to predict which cells will be resistant to treatment.
“I am hoping that this approach combined with new therapies will improve the outcome of women with breast cancer,” says Dr Merino.
Dr Merino is now working at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute on a series of projects aimed at improving personalised treatment for patients with advanced breast cancer, and will be using this technology, amongst others.