Dr Fatima Valdes Mora
BSc (Hons), PhD
To understand the epigenetic changes that occur when cancer first develops (carcinogenesis)
To find the key epigenetic factors that drive carcinogenesis
To apply this knowledge to the design of new epigenetic-based therapies
Dr Fatima Valdes Mora (Fa) joined the Institute in January 2020 to establish a new research group, having been selected to take up one of our highly competitive Team Leader positions. Before joining us, Fa worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Garvan Institute, where she established the Histone Variants Group.
Fa has made significant contributions to our understanding of how genes are regulated in cancer, and key factors that can alter the expression of genes. “I’ve been working for 10 years on cancer epigenetics, with a focus on one particular factor, a histone variant called H2A.Z” she explains. “I’ve shown that once we understand how a particular epigenetic factor works in cancer, we can then develop a specific drug to target it.”
Fa says cancer research has always been her passion, but with childhood cancer there is an extra level of motivation, particularly now she is a mother. Having previously worked on adult cancers such as prostate and breast cancer, she is now shifting her focus to cancers such as DIPG, the most aggressive brain tumour in children. “In adult cancer, many genetic mutations are known to be drivers. However, in childhood cancer, the mutation rate is quite low and epigenetics appears to play a more significant role.”
As well as investigating epigenetic factors that drive childhood cancer with a view to developing epigenetic therapies, Fa is also keen to develop new technologies that enable epigenetics to be interrogated in more depth. She is also researching the tumour microenvironment ― the non-cancerous cells around tumours that change through epigenetics to help the cancer grow and spread.
“I’m trying to understand the whole picture. To have effective treatment, you need to target both aspects: the cancer cells and the tumour microenvironment.”
Fa’s research has been published in high quality journals such as Nature Communications and she has held a number of highly competitive fellowships, including a recently-awarded Cancer Institute NSW Career Development Fellowship. She is a Conjoint Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine at UNSW Sydney.