Tumour biologist and PhD student Walter Muskovic received a grant to support research into brain cancer glioblastoma from the chosen charity for zombie walks around Australia, the Brain Foundation. It must be Halloween.

The $15K Brain Foundation grant was awarded last night at the Art Gallery of NSW by Professor The Honourable Dame Marie Bashir AD CVO. It will support RNA sequencing to help understand gene transcription in highly malignant brain cancer glioblastoma, part of Walter’s research for his PhD at UNSW.

With the ultimate goal to identify new therapeutic targets for future glioblastoma drugs, Walter is trying to work out what role microRNAs and non-coding RNA species play in the feedback between transcription factors.

Transcription, the first step in gene expression, involves the production of RNA from a DNA template and it’s a complex process involving lots of different kinds of molecules called transcription factors. For decades, the molecules involved and their interactions have been mapped as regulatory networks. But these static maps only tell part of the story.

Dynamic molecules

The interactions between the molecules are dynamic. Walter wants to see how they’re coordinated over time, much like a ballet brings dancers together on stage at different points in a performance. The grant he’s received will help him work out what happens when to what, and how that’s disrupted in cancer.

“We think that’s something that’s been largely ignored. Studies show that disruption of these non-coding programs may have some kind of positive influence but no-one’s been able to unravel that” he said.

Walter has developed an innovative bioinformatics method that’s allowed him to identify previously unknown microRNAs involved in several pathways critical to glioblastoma biology. He’s also done detailed computer modelling of the discovered microRNA-target-gene network.

Walter’s grant funding was provided by the North West Committee of the Brain Foundation, whose annual Christmas Fair in Tamworth raises much-needed funds for research into brain disorders like cancer. A Brain Foundation spokesperson said the North West Committee chose Walter’s award to fund this year.

“The Tamworth Fair has been running for a number of years and they are very generous in their support to us” she said.

Symposium in Germany

In a further boost to this research, Walter has also received a second grant, awarded by EMBL Australia, to travel to an international PhD students’ symposium next month in Heidelberg.

The symposium’s theme is ‘Life by Numbers: Towards Quantitative Biology’ and will be run by prestigious international science institution, European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL).

Walter is one of only 10 PhD students from across Australia and one of only 3 from NSW chosen to receive travel grants to the symposium from EMBL Australia, headquartered in Adelaide. He is very excited to share ideas with like-minded researchers from all around the world.

“People at the symposium look to have a very similar focus on their work that I have. It’s more basic biology-oriented but still has that overarching translational focus, aiming to get research applied in the clinic. The speakers seem to be very much of the mindset that we’ll never be able to cure what we don’t fully understand, which is my own view” he said.

New ideas and approaches will help boost this research along the path toward a cure – good news for glioblastoma.

Read more about our tumour biology research and, if you’re in Melbourne this weekend, get into the Halloween spirit and join in a Zombie Walk for brain research.

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