Dr Nikki Verrills - Rising Star Award 2012
Dr Nikki Verrills research interests centre on understanding the molecular changes involved in cancer progression and chemotherapy resistance. By using powerful proteomics techniques, including being one of the first in Australia to use difference in-gel electrophoresis technology, she has discovered novel protein alterations that confer chemotherapy resistance in childhood leukaemia.
Her research today primarily centres on acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), which is the most common adult leukaemia and has the worst response to chemotherapy and the worst survival rates. Dr Verrills investigations are trying to understand what the proteins within AML cells are doing, how they differ from normal healthy white blood cells, and how to target these proteins to specifically kill the leukaemia cells.
Another arm of her research is investigating the role of the signalling protein, protein phosphatase 2A (PP2A) in cancer, in particular determining the role of mutant PP2A and specific PP2A subunits in the development of cancer. This research is internationally competitive and recognised through continued publications, presentations at international and national meetings, and international and national awards.
There are some cancers that respond very effectively to treatment and others that respond extremely poorly. Genetic sub-types of cancers can also respond differently to treatments and patients will have individual reactions. In the future Dr Verrills and her colleagues are hoping to develop ways of looking at a patient sample and being able to detect the exact cancer sub-type and active proteins and immediately target them with the most effective therapy.
In 2006, Dr Verrills received a highly competitive and prestigious NHMRC Peter Doherty (Biomedical) Postdoctoral Fellowship and in the same year became the inaugural recipient of the HMRI Competitive Research Fund Grant for Early Career Researchers in Cancer. Currently a Cancer Institute NSW funded research fellow, she also lectures for second and third year Biomedical Science courses.
Since joining the University of Newcastle, Dr Verrills has established her own research program - Cancer Biology - and has played a pivotal role in establishing a proteomics research project as part of the Asthma and Airways CRC. She has also instigated collaborations with international leaders in cancer research.
NBN News Innovators Series - Friday 16 November 2012
As our series on Newcastle Innovation’s high achievers concludes, we head into the lab with a medical researcher who is tackling one of the most deadly forms of cancer.
Dr Nikki Verrills has been named a rising star for her work towards finding better treatments for a type of leukaemia.