New push targets deadly brain cancer

Finding treatment targets for deadly cancers such as glioblastoma – a type of brain cancer which kills more people under the age of 40 than any other cancer and more children than any other disease – is firmly in the sights of Flinders University research leader Associate Professor Simon Conn.

A new $2.1 million Australian Government NHMRC Investigator Leadership grant will support his laboratory at the Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute to work with US partners to find possible treatments for rare and currently incurable cancers.

“This five-year grant will allow us to expand our understanding of a new family of genetic molecules, called circular RNAs. By understanding how they are formed and behave in human cells, we aim to determine whether circular RNAs might be novel targets for new anticancer drugs,” says ARC Future Fellow Associate Professor Conn.

“The average survival time after diagnosis for patients with glioblastoma is just over one year and this has not improved in the past 30 years,” says Associate Professor Conn, who now leads the only dedicated lab in Australia looking into circular RNAs in cancer.

“My ultimate goal is to see similar increased survival from this disease as has been achieved through scientific research for other more common cancers, including breast and prostate cancer.”

The Flinders University team, with colleagues at Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, will use cutting-edge technologies to study these incredibly small donut-shaped, circular RNA molecules.

“In order for our DNA sequence to control how our cells and body functions it must be decoded,” Associate Professor Conn says.

“However, this decoding involves hundreds of proteins and it is not a perfect process introducing changes to the sequence which can have serious impact on how every single cell functions.

“Being awarded this highly prestigious NHMRC grant will allow us to understand the process of circular RNA formation in human cells at a never-before-possible level of detail to assess whether there is potential for new anticancer drugs which could target these circular RNAs in the body. “

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College of Medicine and Public Health Research