Dr Omer Gilan
Researcher: Dr Omer Gilan
Institute: Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (VIC)
Project title: Treating leukaemia with combination
therapies that regulate the packaging
Disease focus: Acute myeloid leukaemia
Annual Funding: $100,000
Funding period: 2015-2017
Combining therapies targeting epigenetic mutations in cancer cells could provide a new strategy for treating acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), according to Dr Omer Gilan. Epigenetics is a term used to explain the cellular mechanisms that control the expression of genes. Mutations and changes can occur that affect the proteins that package and regulate our DNA, without the actual DNA sequence altering.
The Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre researcher is assessing a combination therapy of two epigenetic drugs in laboratory models.
Researchers believe epigenetic changes play an important role in AML.
“Epigenetic-targeted treatments have shown remarkable promise in treating AML,” said Dr Gilan.
“However, these treatments aren’t effective long-term because they don’t destroy all the leukaemic stem cells producing the cancerous cells.
“To overcome this problem, I’m looking at how combination therapy with two epigenetic therapies can synergise and target leukaemia cells to potentially cure subsets of patients with AML.
“If successful, this research project will extend our options for treating this aggressive and often incurable disease, and provide the rationale for clinical trials using these two epigenetic therapies.”
In a previous research project, Dr Gilan showed that a new small molecular drug (from the class of drugs known as BET bromodomain inhibitors. BET bromodomain inhibitors interact with several molecular targets to restore normal cell behaviour. Critically, researchers believe they switch on genes that stop cancer from making the RNA and DNA they need to grow and divide.) had potential in treating AML. He also identified another, clinically available drug, which may work well with the BET inhibitor.
Using pre-clinical models of AML, Dr Gilan will assess if the combination of therapies can overcome resistance and offer improved survival benefits over a single agent therapy. He also aims to understand how these two therapies work together at a molecular level.
Dr Gilan is working in the laboratory of Associate Professor Mark Dawson, Consultant Haematologist and Head of the Cancer Epigenetics Laboratory, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. The Leukaemia Foundation also awarded a 2015 PhD Scholarship to Dean Tyler, who is working in the same laboratory, to understand how azacitidine works in MDS (Some people with MDS can transform to AML)