Monash scientist wins fellowship for tumour-causing protein research

Dr Andrew Ellisdon has been awarded a VCA Mid-Career Research FellowshipMonash Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) scientist Dr Andrew Ellisdon has been awarded a Victorian Cancer Agency (VCA) Mid-Career Research Fellowship to further his work into the protein behind neurofibromatosis type 1, a genetic condition that causes tumours to form on nerve tissue. Dr Ellisdon’s research aims to discover new pathways for therapeutic intervention for Australians living with NF1-linked cancers and tumours.

The protein behind NF1 acts as an ‘on-off’ switch for cell growth in the body. If it is ‘lost’ or mutated, cell growth takes off unimpeded, leading to cancers from breast cancer to melanoma.

Dr Ellisdon was awarded the four-year fellowship on the basis of his team’s work into NF1 over the past few years, the highlight of which was research published recently that used cryogenic electron microscopy (cryo-EM) and high-resolution pictures to reveal the structure of the NF protein.

“The protein is a text-book example of an on-off switch to cell growth. That’s been identified for over 30 years but the big puzzle was what this protein looked like and how it worked,” he said.

NF1 or Von Recklinghausen's disease, which is incurable, affects one in 2,500 Australians. People with NF1 also have a higher risk of developing a number of cancers. Dr Ellisdon’s research ultimately aims to help these people, some of whom have already had input into the work.

“We are committed to communicating our research to patient support groups such as The Children’s Tumour Foundation. This also provides an avenue for patients to communicate their needs back to scientists.”

The work funded under the fellowship has two prongs. It will delve deeper to look within the cell at the impact of specific patient mutations drawn from a database. “We’re going to look at how these individual mutations cause dysfunction or dysregulation of the NF protein to trigger cell growth,” Dr Ellisdon said.

The second part of the work being supported will use mass spectrometry to probe in fine detail the NF protein’s interactions within the cell. “The NF protein not only controls cell growth but functions like a Swiss Army Knife in that it controls a lot of other processes that are also affected by its loss. This leads to a variety of effects that could contribute to cancer development,” Dr Ellisdon said.

“If we can discover other proteins that are affected by the loss of NF1, we may identify new therapeutic strategies for the treatment of NF1 disease and cancer,” he said.

Dr Ellisdon was among 20 researchers who will share in more than $10 million in grants to help develop breakthroughs in cancer prevention, screening, treatment and care, announced today by the Minister for Health Martin Foley.

“To be awarded this fellowship in what is a very competitive funding landscape is really amazing,” Dr Ellisdon said. “It’s a big personal milestone.

“I’d like to thank Monash BDI for its ongoing support.”

The Joint Head of Monash BDI’s Cancer Program, Professor Roger Daly, said “The award of this fellowship recognizes the outstanding discovery research on NF1 that Andrew has undertaken and will support the next phase of this research program, which is aimed at delineating in more detail how NF1 signals inside the cell, and identifying strategies to block these signals. This could lead to novel therapeutic approaches to treat this devastating condition”.

This funding round takes the total investment by the Victorian Cancer Agency to more than $300 million since it was established by the Victorian Government in 2006.

About the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University

Committed to making the discoveries that will relieve the future burden of disease, the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University brings together more than 120 internationally-renowned research teams. Our researchers are supported by world-class technology and infrastructure, and partner with industry, clinicians and researchers internationally to enhance lives through discovery.

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