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Improved cancer Therapies on the horizon

Feb 2 2012

Dr Nikki Verrills

University of Newcastle researcher Dr Nikki Verrills has been awarded a $360,000 grant to examine a potential new treatment for leukaemia patients.

Her research is focused on the behaviour of a particular protein, known as protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A), which becomes inactive in the cancerous cells of some people with acute myeloid leukaemia.

Dr Verrills’ laboratory research has shown that when PP2A is activated with the drug FTY720, PP2A can kill leukaemia cells without affecting the body’s healthy cells.

“The grant will enable us to understand exactly how the drug works with a view to entering clinical trials,” Dr Verrills said.

“Survival rates for patients with acute myeloid leukaemia are currently extremely poor and novel therapies are urgently required.”

Dr Verrills’ body of work to date has identified specific proteins that become altered in a cancer cell. This latest research is focused on finding new ways to stop the cell growing with the use of targeted treatments.

Acute myeloid leukaemia accounts for 30 per cent of all leukaemia diagnoses in Australia and it has the lowest survival rate.

The grant is awarded jointly through Cure Cancer Australia Foundation and Cancer Council NSW. Her research has also been supported by grants from the Hunter Medical Research Institute, including sponsorship from Gallerie Fine Jewellery, the Stroud Rodeo, Adamstown Lions Club and Mrs Jennie Thomas. 

Dr Verrills’ research career has centred on understanding the molecular pathways in various cancers.

Her PhD studies, conducted at the Children’s Cancer Institute Australia, investigated the molecular mechanisms behind chemotherapy resistance in childhood leukaemia for which she was awarded a NHMRC Peter Doherty Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2006.

She has since established a laboratory at the University of Newcastle and recently accepted an Early Career Researchers fellowship with the Cancer Institute NSW.

HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.