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14 Oct 2019
  • Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute
  • Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre
  • Walter and Eliza Hall Institute

Monday Lunch Live with Dr Shalin Naik and Dr Delphine Merino

Tracking cancer with barcodes to inform better treatments

Metastasis is the main cause of mortality for breast cancer patients. Recent studies have shown that each patient tumour is composed of a mix of cancer cells with unique genetic properties. Some sub-populations of cells present in the tumour may have the ability to spread to other organs, such as bone, lungs or brain. We need to develop new strategies to identify these cells and understand their biology to detect, prevent and treat advanced disease.

Why are some sub-populations of cells leaving the breast to go to different organs? Can we identify them? Can we detect them in the blood? Why are some of these cells escaping current therapies? How can we design better treatments to kill them?

Hear laboratory heads Dr Shalin Naik of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research and Dr Delphine Merino of Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, talk about their research collaboration.

The researchers’ new ‘barcoding’ strategy is enabling study of different subpopulations of patient tumours. This work could inform design of new therapies to monitor and understand tumour progression and treat patients with advanced disease.

Dr Delphine MerinoDr Delphine Merino

Dr Merino received her PhD in 2008 at the University of Burgundy, in France, studying the molecular mechanisms involved in the extrinsic pathway of apoptosis, in particular TRAIL-mediated cell death. In 2008, she joined the Molecular Genetics of Cancer Division at WEHI as postdoctoral fellow to study the role of the intrinsic pathway of apoptosis in immune homeostasis and cancer progression. Her work was extended to the study of BH3 mimetics, small molecules that inhibit pro-survival proteins. She studied the role of various BH3 mimetic (including venetoclax) in normal and malignant lymphoid cells. In 2012, she joined the Stem Cells and Cancer Division (WEHI), to study the effect of BH3 mimetics on various breast cancer subtypes. Altogether these pre-clinical studies have contributed to the clinical development of this new class of drugs for the treatment of both leukaemia and breast cancer.

Since April 2017, Dr Merino is a laboratory head at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute. Her group focuses on tumour progression and heterogeneity. She is identifying the survival pathways responsible for the spread of cancer cells to different organs. This work will be useful not only to understand cancer progression, but also to identify new therapies for the treatment of advanced disease.

Dr Shalin Naik

Dr Shalin Naik

Dr Naik is a graduate of the University of Queensland (Microbiology & Biochemistry) where he did Honours with Professor David Hume on macrophage activation by CpG DNA.

After a two year hiatus in London, he returned to Melbourne to do his PhD with Professor Ken Shortman on dendritic cell development at ther Walter and Eliza Hall Institute. It was here he gained an interest in single cell tracking and fate determination in biology, and was awarded his PhD in 2006. Interested in the emerging technology of ‘cellular barcoding’ Dr Naik did his postdoc in the laboratory of Professor Ton Schumacher at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, where he traced the single cell output of haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells in vivo. After returning to the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in 2013, he was later appointed as a Laboratory Head in the Immunology Division where his lab uses single cell systems biology to investigate stem cells and cancer.

He also leads the Single Cell Open Research Endeavour (SCORE) at the Institute – a collaborative centre for single cell technology, experimental design and computational projects, and is co-host of Ask the Doctor and Catalyst on the ABC.


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