Melanie Eckersley-Maslin receives award for stem cell research

Melanie Eckersley-Maslin receives award for stem cell research

Key points:

  • Dr Melanie Eckersley-Maslin, who until the end of last year was a BBSRC Discovery fellow in the Reik lab, has received a 2020 Metcalf Prize from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia.
  • The prizes recognise leadership in stem cell research.
  • Melanie’s future research builds upon her epigenetics research into how cellular identity is established in early development and will investigate the role of key regulators of this process in the context of cancer.

Dr Melanie Eckersley-Maslin, a recent alumna from the Reik lab in the Institute’s Epigenetics research programme, has been awarded a 2020 Metcalf Prize for Stem Cell Research in recognition of her early-career leadership in stem cell research. The Metcalf Prizes are awarded annually by the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia and the prize recipients each receive $55,000 AUD (approximately £31,000).

Melanie—who just started her independent research career at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, Australian —believes the proteins which control the growth of cells in embryos could be targeted to stop the uncontrolled growth of cells in cancer.

Vital to normal development in early life, these molecules may later play a role in the early stages of cancer or help it spread. If so, it might be possible to target them therapeutically and block or slow progression of the disease.

Continuing the research interests Melanie developed at the Institute, her future research plans will focus on a pair of protein molecules –Development Pluripotency Associated 2 (Dppa2) and Dppa4 –that are linked with early development of different cell types. In most cases they fall silent once their work is complete. However, they can reappear later in life in some cancers.

“Cancers take on some of the features of early development and that’s been known, but how this works isn’t fully understood,” she says.

The secret could be in the role of Dppa2 and Dppa4. Healthy embryonic cell development is tightly controlled. Once the cell type is determined the cells themselves do not change.

“The heart will always stay the heart, it doesn't become the brain, despite the heart and brain cells having the same genetic sequence and the same DNA,” says Melanie.

“A lot of that control for the early embryo is deregulated in cancers and no one has really looked at that. I’m taking these lessons that I’ve learnt on how the embryo is tightly controlled to learn how in cancers it becomes uncontrolled and cancers can grow.”

A second Metcalf Prize was awarded to Associate Professor Steven Lane of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute. Both winners will receive their awards at a formal presentation by molecular biologist Professor Suzanne Cory AC FAA FRS on 8th February.

“Melanie Eckersley-Maslin and Steven Lane are taking two very different stem cell research approaches to understand, prevent and treat different types of cancer,” says Dr Graeme Blackman AO, the chairman of the Foundation.

 

Notes to Editors

This news item was adapted from the press announcements made by the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia:
Tackling cancers through mystery molecules and genetic fingerprints
Melanie Eckersley-Maslin, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre

Press contact
Tanya Ha, Science in Public, 0404 083 863, tanya@scienceinpublic.com.au

Image description
Melanie Eckersley-Maslin and images from her research.

Additional/related resources:
News, 6 July 2020 Novel CRISPR screen speeds discovery of early developmental regulators
News, 22 June 2020 Early preparation allows genes to ‘come online’ later
News, 28 January 2019 Kick-starting the genome in early development

About the Babraham Institute
The Babraham Institute undertakes world-class life sciences research to generate new knowledge of biological mechanisms underpinning ageing, development and the maintenance of health. Our research focuses on cellular signalling, gene regulation and the impact of epigenetic regulation at different stages of life. By determining how the body reacts to dietary and environmental stimuli and manages microbial and viral interactions, we aim to improve wellbeing and support healthier ageing. The Institute is strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), part of UK Research and Innovation, through an Institute Core Capability Grant and also receives funding from other UK research councils, charitable foundations, the EU and medical charities.

About BBSRC
The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is part of UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK government.

BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by government, BBSRC invested £451 million in world-class bioscience in 2019-20. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.