Dickins Group - AML

Ross Dickins 2018
Group Leader
Associate Professor Ross Dickins

Research Officer
Dr Thao Nguyen
Research Assistant
Ms Emilia Simankowicz

PhD Students
Mr Steven Ngo
Mr Ethan Oxley

Honours Student
Ms Swathy Jayakrishnan

Key terms: Acute myeloid leukaemia, Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, Tumour suppressor genes, Transcription factors, Differentiation therapy

2018 Dickins lab

2018: L-R  Ms Swathy Jayakrishnan, Mr Steven Ngo, A/Prof Ross Dickins, Mr Ethan Oxley,
Dr Thao Nguyen

Research Overview

Cancer results from an accumulation of genetic mutations that disable normal regulation of cell growth and survival. Genome sequencing of thousands of cancers has identified hundreds of recurrently mutated driver genes, comprising similar numbers of oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. In acute myeloid leukemia (AML) ~100 driver genes have been identified, however an individual AML genome averages only 5 driver mutations. A key challenge towards developing more effective cancer therapies is understanding how individual driver gene mutations contribute to leukemogenesis and treatment response.

Research Interests

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) are characterised by failure of transformed blasts to undergo normal lineage maturation. Our laboratory is interested in understanding how driver mutations in acute leukemia contribute to this differentiation block, focusing on hematopoietic transcription factors including PU.1, CEBPA, PAX5, and IKAROS. We use reversible RNA interference (RNAi) and other genetic technologies to generate mouse leukemias that accurately recapitulate human leukemia genetics, and assess the functional consequences of oncogene withdrawal and/or tumor suppressor restoration in established leukemias in vivo. Using these tools we are gaining fresh insights into how loss of particular transcription factors contributes to leukemia cell self-renewal and therapy resistance. We also use these mouse leukemia models to identify genes critical for leukemia maintenance, which represent potential novel drug targets.


Our laboratory is funded by the National Health and Medical Research  Council (NHMRC), and has previously been supported by the Leukaemia  Foundation of Australia, the Sylvia and Charles Viertel Charitable  Foundation, and VESKI.

Selected Publications

Witkowski MT, Hu Y, Roberts KG, Boer JM, McKenzie MD, Liu GJ, Le Grice OD, Tremblay CS, Ghisi M, Willson TA, Horstmann MA, Aifantis I, Cimmino L, Frietze S, den Boer ML, Mullighan CG, Smyth GK, Dickins RA. Conserved IKAROS-regulated genes associated with B-progenitor acute lymphoblastic leukemia outcome. J Exp Med 214, 773-791 (2017)

Witkowski  MT*, Cimmino L*, Hu Y, Trimarchi T, Tagoh H, McKenzie MD, Best SA,  Tuohey L, Willson TA, Nutt SL, Busslinger M, Aifantis I, Smyth GK,  Dickins RA. Activated Notch signaling counteracts Ikaros tumor  suppression in mouse and human T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.  Leukemia 29, 1301-1311 (2015).

Liu GJ, Cimmino L, Jude JG, Hu Y,  Witkowski MT, McKenzie MD, Kartal-Kaess M, Best SA, Tuohey L, Mullighan  CG, Farrar MA, Nutt SL, Smyth GK, Zuber J, Dickins RA. Pax5 loss  imposes a reversible differentiation block in B-progenitor acute  lymphoblastic leukemia. Genes Dev 28, 1337-1350 (2014).

Takiguchi  M, Dow LE, Prier JE, Carmichael CL, Kile BT, Turner SJ, Lowe SW, Huang  DCS, Dickins RA. Variability of inducible expression across the  hematopoietic system of tetracycline transactivator transgenic mice.  PLoS ONE 8, e54009 (2013).

Dickins RA, McJunkin K, Hernando E,  Premsrirut PK, Krizhanovsky V, Burgess DJ, Kim SY, Cordon-Cardo C,  Zender L, Hannon GJ, Lowe SW.  Tissue-specific and reversible RNAi in  transgenic mice. Nat Genet 39, 914-921 (2007).

Dickins RA, Hemann  MT, Zilfou JT, Simpson DR, Ibarra I, Hannon GJ, Lowe SW.  Probing tumor  phenotypes using stable and regulated synthetic microRNA precursors.  Nat Genet 37, 1289-1295 (2005).

Former lab members

Margherita Ghisi, PhD: Postdoctoral fellow, 2015-2016
Currently Postdoctoral fellow, Toulouse, France

Minhee Halemba, BSc(Hons): Research assistant 2014-2015
Currently PhD student, Monash University, Melbourne

Michael Erlichster, BSc(Hons): Honours student 2013
Currently PhD student, University of Melbourne

Mutlu Kartal-Kaess, MD PhD: Postdoctoral Fellow 2010-2013
Currently Medical Specialist, Heidelberg, Germany

Matthew Witkowski, PhD: Honours student 2011, PhD student 2012-2015
Currently Postdoctoral Fellow, NYU, USA

Mark McKenzie, PhD: Postdoctoral fellow 2010-2015
Currently Postdoctoral fellow, WEHI, Melbourne

Laura Tuohey, BMS/BBT: Research assistant 2010-2011
Currently Research assistant, University of Melbourne

Luisa Cimmino, PhD: Postdoctoral fellow 2008-2011
Currently Assistant Professor, NYU, USA

Megumi Takiguchi, PhD: Postdoctoral fellow 2009-2012
Currently Dentist, Perth

Grace Liu, PhD: PhD student 2010-2014
Currently Postdoctoral fellow, IMP, Vienna

Rachael Lane: Research assistant 2008-2012
Currently Research assistant, WEHI, Melbourne

Sarah Best, PhD: Research assistant 2008, Honours student 2009
Currently Postdoctoral fellow, WEHI, Melbourne