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Donor Funding: $75,000
Cancer Type: All cancers
Cancer Stage: Treatment
Funded in: 2017

Associate Professor Janni Petersen
Flinders University

Our research
Cancer is a disease of uncontrolled cell growth and division. Compared to normal cells in the body, cancer cells of solid tumours are starved of nutrients. However, despite being nutritionally stressed cancer cells still manage to grow and divide. We aim to understand how cancer cells survive exposure to nutrient stress. Enzymes named AMPK and Target Of Rapamycin TOR are major nutrient sensing enzymes that coordinate cell growth and division with the nutrient environment. In humans, AMPK and mTOR signalling are altered in the majority of tumours. Because tumour cells multiply in environments with limited nutrient supplies, a greater understanding of AMPK and mTOR signalling in different nutritional contexts offers enormous potential for improvement of therapeutic strategies against cancer.

What we aim to achieve
Through our research we aim to improve the understanding of cancer cell signalling in order to help identify new strategies to target and fight cancer cells only. If we identify signalling that is specific to nutrient stressed cancer cells this will allow us to develop strategies to specifically target cancer cells whilst leaving normal cells in the body unharmed. This would improve the lives of people affected by cancer by improving the treatments available.

Our next steps and milestones
This work will set the scene for future programmes in our laboratory that exploit growth and nutrient controls for targeting of cancer cells that are growing under nutrient stress. We anticipate that a full integration of findings from this project into our understanding of nutrient depending signalling will assist us in the development of more targeted therapeutic approaches to fight cancer. Our findings may also highlight new opportunities for novel drugs combination therapies.

What motivates me
It inspires and motivates me when I contribute to the understanding of biology especially when it has the potential to be life changing for cancer sufferers and their families and friends.

My message to supporters
Support for research via the cancer council SA grants are “life saving” grants. They keep our fundamental and basic research afloat in a climate where funding from governments is increasingly difficult to come by, due to lack of funding for basic research. Only through basic research will we be able to uncover novel means to combat cancer.