Researcher reveals new ways to catch killer cells

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

A pioneering young scientist from Newcastle has received national recognition for using stem cell research to investigate ways of improving the survival rates for leukemia.

Dr Heather Lee
Dr Heather Lee

Announced today, Dr Heather Lee received one of two prestigious $50,000 Metcalf Prizes from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia in recognition of her leadership in stem cell research.

While working at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, UK, Dr Lee invented a way to study the genetics of individual cells more closely that will help understand why some cancer cells are treatable and others go rogue.

“By studying the genetics of individual cells more closely, we can now see the chemical ‘flags’ that tell the cell how to interpret its genetic code,” Dr Lee said.

“At the same time, we can watch how those instructions are, or aren’t, carried out and identify what makes rogue cancer cells different at a genetic level.”

In honour of the late Emeritus Professor Donald Metcalf, the annual Prizes are awarded to two outstanding mid-career researchers who are using stem cell research to prevent disease.

Conducting research in conjunction with the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), Dr Lee is now a Cancer Institute NSW Fellow.

Her current research is studying cells from patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) to see how just a few cells can resist treatment and go on to cause a fatal relapse.

It is hoped that findings from this research will lead to new, more effective drug treatments for AML, which impacts approximately 900 people each year in Australia.

“I am honoured to be receiving this award, which has recognised the work of many great Australian scientists. I also feel very thankful for the prize money, which will allow me to continue my research and share my expertise with other scientists around Australasia,” Dr Lee said.

“I am also very grateful for all the support I have received from my colleagues, mentors and family.”

Recipients will be formally presented with the 2018 Metcalf Prizes for Stem Cell Research at an event in Melbourne on Friday 30 November, 2018.

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