Wednesday 29 August 2018 2:01pm
As a youngster, University of Otago scientist Dr Andrew Das was fascinated by how things work and wanted to put that curiosity to good use.
The Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Pathology at the University of Otago, Christchurch, is doing just that as a member of a research team investigating the role of epigenetics in leukaemia.
Specifically, Dr Das is investigating the potential role of vitamin C as an epigenetic therapeutic in specific subtypes of acute myeloid leukaemia.
Various combinations of mutations can contribute to the development of myeloid leukaemia. One of the genes, TET2, participates in DNA demethylation. Research to date in animal and cell models has shown potential for vitamin C to reverse the negative effects of mutations in TET2, Dr Das explains.
To further his work, Dr Das was last week awarded the Roche Translational Research Fellowship.
Roche introduced the annual Fellowship, valued at $30,000, in 2016. It provides a unique opportunity for New Zealand cancer research teams to upskill an integral team member, so the team can work together more effectively to improve their research output.
The field of epigenetics has grown significantly in recent years with the availability of new genetic sequencing techniques and Dr Das says it is an exciting time to be involved in such research.
"Epigenetic changes are known to be involved in many leukaemias and, when present, could indicate responsiveness to targeted treatments, including vitamin C supplementation."
Determining which mutations are involved in any particular myeloid leukaemia requires sophisticated analysis of the cancer gene sequence and this information is required to assist with diagnosis and to determine potential treatment options.
“Epigenetic changes are known to be involved in many leukaemias and, when present, could indicate responsiveness to targeted treatments, including vitamin C supplementation,” Dr Das explains.
Dr Das was delighted to receive the award, which was announced at the New Zealand Society for Oncology’s annual conference in Queenstown on Friday, 24 August.
“This award will allow me to learn some of the experimental methods and bioinformatics analysis required to investigate epigenetic changes, such as DNA methylation,” he says.
University of Otago immunologist Dr Roslyn Kemp is President of the New Zealand Society for Oncology and says the judges felt Dr Das’ work is an emerging area of cancer research, which already has clinical significance in leukaemia.
“Andrew is a clinically-trained researcher who will now be supported to translate his clinical skills into a fundamental cancer research programme,” Dr Kemp says.
“One of the advantages of the NZSO Roche Translational Cancer Research Fellowship is the flexibility it gives the awardee to explore new ideas and initiatives and Andrew will be able to further both his scientific development and his translational research ideas.”
Dr Kemp is well aware of the benefits the award brings; she was the inaugural recipient in 2016 for her work investigating the immune response within cancer to improve treatment outcomes for patients with bowel cancer.
Dr Andrew Das (left) receives his award from Associate Professor Roslyn Kemp and Roche General Manager, Ian Black at the New Zealand Society for Oncology’s annual conference.