Monday 27 August 2018 11:08am

Master's student Yasmin Nouri talks about her research in front of a picture of stem cell organoids

Yasmin Nouri has won the national 2018 Three Minute Thesis competition, Master's category.

After winning the University of Otago's Master's category of Otago's 2018 Three Minute Thesis competition earlier this month, she traveled to the University of Canterbury to compete in the national event last week.

To reach the national competition, she beat five other Master's finalists from across the University of Otago's campuses and Divisions.

She is conducting her research in Professor Parry Guilford's Cancer Genetics Lab in the Department of Biochemistry – working to develop a chemopreventative treatment for Hereditary Diffuse Gastric Cancer (HDGC).

This aggressive form of stomach cancer, caused by a mutation in the E-cadherin gene, has a disproportionately high prevalence in the New Zealand Māori population – with the primary current treatment being the total removal of the stomach.

“We are aiming to develop a low dose, low frequency treatment that will prevent mutation carriers from ever developing the cancer,” she says. “My specific role has been to help develop a new model for the disease, called a gastric organoid. This is a miniature stomach, which is grown by extracting stem cells from a mouse stomach and directing their growth into small, 3D stomach-like structures. I then mutate the E-cadherin gene to induce the cancer, so that the organoids reflect the stomach of an HDGC patient.”

These models are used to study disease mechanisms, as well as for drug screening.

“Using the organoids for drug screening allows us to identify compounds that kill cancerous cells that have had their E-cadherin gene mutated, but do not harm healthy cells - all in the context of a 3D stomach structure. Our most effective drug candidates will then be passed on to animal models and eventually human trials.”

She says while the science of her project is complex, and condensing it down to three minutes was tricky, she is lucky that the project is inherently engaging.

“I know that you don't have to be a scientist to be intrigued by the idea of mini organs being grown in a lab!”

You can watch Yasmin's presentation here:

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