A Research Blog

As we say goodbye to 2016 and usher in the new year, the Microscope team would like to celebrate, as we look forward to another year of breakthroughs and advancements, the fantastic year it has been for research. To kick off 2017, we asked each Signature Research Programme Director to pick the top research story impacting their respective research areas in the past year, and have put together a series of posts about each story and its significance for the coming year. Join us over the next few weeks to find out more about the hottest research topics.

In this first instalment, we share with you Professor David Virshup’s pick for the Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Programme at Duke-NUS: Immunotherapy.

What is immunotherapy?Infusions

Immunotherapy has been labelled the newest cancer treatment on the block, a game changer in the way cancer treatment is being approached. Instead of using cytotoxic treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy to kill cancer cells, immunotherapy takes advantage of the patient’s own immune system to recognise and attack cancer cells.

How does immunotherapy work?

Past and present Duke-NUS researchers recently attended the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Conference on Protein Phosphatases in Colorado, USA. Professor David Virshup and Assistant Professor Koji Itahana from the Duke-NUS Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Programme and Professor Shirish Shenolikar from the Duke-NUS Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disorders Programme gave talks, while Duke-NUS Research Fellow Dr Lee Ha Yin snagged the best poster award. 

Dr Lee Ha Yin and Professor Catherine Pallen, (FASEB) Conference on Protein Phosphatases Chair, Professor at the University of British Columbia and former member of the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, A*STAR

From left to right: Dr Lee Ha Yin and Professor Catherine Pallen, (FASEB) Conference on Protein Phosphatases Chair, Professor at the University of British Columbia and former member of the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, A*STAR

 

A new way to control Wnt signalling

The overexpression of the enzyme ubiquitin specific peptidase 6 (USP6) has been observed in patients with aneurysmal bone cysts (ABC) and nodular fasciitis. How USP6 is involved in the manifestation of ABC and nodule fasciitis was not known, until now.

Credit: Ann-Marie Chacko

Asst Prof Babita Madan with Prof David Virshup, Director of the Cancer and Stem Cell Biology Programme at Duke-NUS Medical School, in collaboration with researchers at University of North Carolina and University of Pennsylvania, discovered that USP6 overexpression increases sensitivity of a cell to Wnt activation. It does this by increasing the number of Wnt receptors, Frizzled (Fzd), on the cell surface. This finding not only identifies the disease mechanism for ABC and nodular fasciitis, but also provides a novel way for modulating Wnt signalling.

Cell growth and migration are some important cellular processes regulated by the Wnt pathway. That is why dysfunction in this pathway is implicated in many diseases such as cancer and, inflammatory and vascular diseases. It also means that the Wnt pathway is an attractive target for new therapies such as Singapore’s home-grown cancer therapy, ETC-159.

Specifically, the unique selling point of USP6 is that it provides researchers with a new way to control a cell’s sensitivity to Wnt activation without disrupting Wnt signalling directly. In this way, new therapies may be developed to adjust Wnt activation, rather than just turning it on or off.

You can read more about this study here.

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