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Searching for new therapeutic targets for leukemia in non-coding regions of the genome

A 2022 Terry Fox New Investigator Award will help a BC scientist search for new therapeutic targets for leukemia in a poorly understood area of science: the non-coding regions of the genome.

Dr. Ly Vu, a scientist at the Terry Fox Laboratory at BC Cancer, will receive $450,000 over three years from the Terry Fox Research Institute to conduct her study, which hopes to reveal new ways to treat patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), one of the most common forms of the disease.

“This project really aims to look at an under-studied region of the genome to identify targets that will hopefully serve as the foundation for development of new therapies, which could ultimately be translated to the clinics for the benefit of leukemia patients,” says Dr. Vu.

Her research will focus on a specific type of gene that produce transcripts known as long non-coding RNAs (lncRNAs). Historically, these genes have been overlooked by scientists because they do not code for proteins. But in recent years, new technologies have allowed researchers to discover that lncRNAs actually regulate a number of important cell functions, such as cell survival, proliferation and differentiation, and could play a role in determining whether a cell develops normally or becomes cancerous.

In this context, Dr. Vu’s project aims to reveal whether a specific lncRNA called PAN3-AS1 is required for survival and proliferation of leukemia cells. Using several cutting-edge technologies, Dr. Vu and her team will be able to see what happens if this lncRNA is disrupted and if targeting this lncRNA could provide a future avenue for treating leukemia.

“If we’re successful, by the end of three years we’ll be able to uncover a new pathway involved in leukemia and explore it as a therapeutic vulnerability for treatment of AML,” says Dr. Vu. “This could open the door for development of effective therapeutic approaches that eliminate leukemia cells while sparing normal cells.”

As part of her New Investigator Award, Dr. Vu will receive mentorship from a long-standing Terry Fox New Frontiers Program Project Grant (PPG) searching for innovative ways to find new therapeutic targets for AML.

“Dr. Vu’s innovative research has already revealed unique insights into how myeloid cancers develop,” says Dr. Aly Karsan, a distinguished scientist at BC Cancer who leads the mentoring program. “We are delighted that Dr. Vu was successful in her Terry Fox New Investigator application, as this award will support her to make further discoveries in AML that will complement ideas currently being supported by our Terry Fox New Frontiers Program Project.”

Mentoring Program: Exploiting Pathogenic Mechanisms In Acute Leukemia For Clinical Translation