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The role of iron in brain cancer

A postgraduate research opportunity at the University of Otago.


Close date
Sunday, 27 February 2022
Academic background
Health Sciences
Host campus
Pathology and Biomedical Science (Christchurch)
Associate Professor Gabi Dachs, Dr Elisabeth Phillips


High grade brain cancers (glioblastoma) are a challenging disease, and few patients survive longer than 15 months, despite modern therapy.

Our previous research has shown that a superfamily of enzymes, the Fe2+-containing 2-oxogluterate (2-OG) dependent dioxygenases (2-OGDDs), play a fundamental role in suppressing cancer progression. These enzymes require oxygen, 2-OG, vitamin C (ascorbate) and Fe2+ for activity, and when any of these are deficient, activity of the 2-OGDDs is inhibited. We have early indications that ascorbate levels are low in glioblastoma and linked with abnormal tumour biology. Glioblastomas are also known to be highly hypoxic. We hypothesise that the combination of low oxygen, low ascorbate and low Fe2+ in glioblastoma contributes to poor patient prognosis.

In this study we aim to measure iron in clinical brain tumour samples by high sensitivity mass spectrometry. Iron storage and metabolism proteins will be measured by western blotting. We will also be using immortalised human glioblastoma cell lines to further analyse 2-OGDD activity, using iron chelators and CoCl2. Iron chelators, such as desferrioxamine can remove Fe2+ from the active site of 2-OGDDs, and similarly, CoCl2 poisons the 2-OGDDs by displacing Fe2+. Results will provide new information about the role of Fe2+ in brain cancer.

Preferred student expertise

We are looking for an enthusiastic, meticulous student with Bachelors of Science or Biomedical Science background and a keen eye for detail. Ideally the student will have some wet lab or cell culture experience.

Further information:

This is one of a number of projects on offer for the 2022 intake of BBiomedSc(Hons) at the University of Otago, Christchurch campus.

UOC BBiomedSc(Hons) website
Associate Professor Gabi Dachs profile
Mackenzie Cancer Research Group
Department of Pathology and Biomedical Science


Associate Professor Gabi Dachs
Tel   +64 3 364 0544