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Dr ShuhYing Tan

PhD Scholarship (Clinical)

Supported by Andrew Cadigan in honour of Chris Simpson

Researcher:         Dr ShuhYing Tan
Institute:               St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research
Project title:         Investigating how abnormal expression ofthe gene HOXA1
      leads to myelodysplastic syndromes
Disease focus:    Myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS)
Annual Funding:  $60,000
Funding period:  2014-2017

Project summary

Researchers from the St Vincent’s Institute of Medical Research Stem Cell RegulationUnit are investigating the role of Homeobox (HOX) genes in blood cell development. Inparticular, the team is interested in the role Homeobox A1 (HOXA1) plays in myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) and its progression to acute leukaemia.

Building on the laboratory’s studies, Dr ShuhYing Tan is using models of MDS to identify potential drugs for treating the disease by either eradicating the MDS-initiating cells or improving the disease outcomes.

“In these preclinical studies, I’m evaluating drug candidates that target HOXA1,” said DrTan.

“Ideally, I’m looking for drugs that will either eliminate the side-effects of myelodysplastic syndromes, such as anaemia and thrombocytopenia, or prevent the disease progressing to acute myeloid leukaemia.”

In addition, Dr Tan is also looking at what happens in MDS models if the activity of HOXA1 is suppressed. She suspects that altered expression of the gene could be involved in up to half of MDS cases and may determine the severity of the disease as well as its progression to leukaemia.

“Understanding the distinct disease biology of myelodysplastic syndromes and the significance of the cellular pathways in HOXA1-induced cases may allow us to apply targeted therapy for 50% or more of cases.”

The Leukaemia Foundation has awarded more than $1.3 million to fund projects in the Stem Cell Regulation Unit. For more information on these projects, see the following factsheets: Louise Purton & Maria Askmyr (2009 & 2010); Carl Walkley (2010); and Louise Purton (2012).