Dr Kelly Avery-Kiejda is an HMRI affiliated researcher from the University of Newcastle's School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy who is passionate about delivering solutions to breast cancer. Although research has come a long way in the last twenty years in particular, breast cancer is still the most common cancer in women - and the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Australian women.
To really understand cancer we need researchers dedicated to one particular aspect. Cancers are heterogenous, they can act and behave really differently in person to person. This is where Kelly's research comes in.
Kelly is fascinated by p53: a protein known as the ‘guardian of the genome’. This protein is known for its ability to prevent the propagation of mutations that can lead to cancer. Which is why Kelly is now looking at this protein and the role it can play in cancer progression and the response to therapy.
P53 isoforms are a relatively recent discovery, they were discovered in 2005. This is when Kelly started her first postdoctoral project looking at the role that isoforms play in chemotherapy resistance in melanoma. Over the past 15 years, Kelly has built on this research and now has a focus on delivering better outcomes for breast cancer, working within the Hunter Cancer Research Alliance (HCRA).
In 2019, Kelly was awarded a Career Development Fellowship by the Cancer Institute NSW to develop a predictive test for p53 and its isoforms to aid the clinical treatment of breast cancer.
P53 is really importan for maintaining the correct response of a cell to genetic injuries, such as DNA damage - this is why it is known as a guardian of the genome. It is also one of the most frequently mutated genes in cancer, meaning its function is lost. But in breast cancer, it is mutated in only a quarter of cases, meaning that other factors cause the gene to malfunction. Why? That's what Kelly can chat about.
Kelly and her team are working on understanding the role that p53 and its isoforms play in regulating chemotherapy response. Chemotherapy works by damaging the DNA in cancer – but for some people with cancer, the body develops a resistance to treatment and the cancer progresses.
Once a cancer develops into a secondary cancer, it essentially becomes incurable. Kelly hopes to use her research on p53 to develop a test that will point out whether a patient is more likely to develop a secondary cancer. She hopes this test can help breast cancer patients and their physicians make more informed decisions about treatment options for better treatment outcomes in the long run.