MBChB, PhD (Otago)
Tel 64 3 378 6159
Dr Andrew Das is interested in the role that metabolism and epigenetics play in the development of cancer. Together with Professor Margreet Vissers, he is currently investigating the potential use of ascorbate (vitamin C) as an epigenetic therapeutic for specific subtypes of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
Each of us begins life as a single cell, a fertilised egg. We then embark on a journey that culminates in our birth. Over these nine months or so, an incredible process takes place, the development of all the various cells and organs that make up our body. Because every cell has the same DNA code, extra markings are required to tell each cell which part of the DNA code they should be using. In other words, these epigenetic markings help cells remember their identity. Epigenetic markings can be on the DNA itself, or on the proteins that DNA is wrapped tightly around to package it inside our cells. A similar process occurs on a daily basis, where your body produces billions of blood cells across a wide range of cell types. These cells all come from haematopoietic stem cells located in the bone marrow, with each type requiring different epigenetic markings to guide their development.
When cells acquire mutations in DNA that affect this process, they become dysfunctional and potentially cancerous. This is in fact what we see with AML. Interestingly, these mutations appear earlier in the course of the disease and drive the development of AML. Because epigenetic markings can be written or erased, the effects are potentially reversible. A prime example is mutations that affect the activity of the enzyme TET2. TET2 is involved in erasing a marking called methylation, and requires vitamin C for optimal activity. Furthermore, supplying additional vitamin C can increase the activity of TET2. These observations have led to the postulation that patients with decreased TET2 activity could benefit from treatment with vitamin C. The team are currently using a number of different approaches to investigate this hypothesis.
In the media
Dr Andrew Das was interviewed on Radio New Zealand by Kim Hill in September 2018 about his research into the role of epigenetics in cancer.