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Boost for CHIRI’s cancer research

By Amanda Iannuzzi 14 November 2018 News Comments Off on Boost for CHIRI’s cancer research

A/Prof. Pieter Eichhorn.

A/Prof. Pieter Eichhorn.

The Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute (CHIRI) is thrilled to welcome new appointment Associate Professor Pieter Eichhorn, from Curtin’s School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, to its cancer research team this year.

Pieter’s research focuses on the use of functional genetic screens to identify novel mechanisms of resistance to targeted cancer therapies. Over the past few months, he is being acquainted with CHIRI and it turns out the appreciation is mutual.

“I was taken with the environment here at CHIRI and thought it would be an excellent place to advance my career,” Pieter said.

“CHIRI is an outstanding institute with a number of groups focused on age-related diseases including a number of groups working on cancer.

“The institute provides a nexus of basic, translational, and clinical research allowing investigators collaborative opportunities at all levels.”

A little bit about Pieter, early in his career he joined the laboratory of Rene Bernards at the Netherlands Cancer Institute where his team worked on some of the world’s first Short hairpin RNA (shRNA) knockdown screens in human cells. shRNAs are artificial molecules that can be used to silence, or ‘knock down’ the expression of targeted genes. As part of this work, the team identified a signaling pathway (PI3K) as a key mechanism of resistance to anti-human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) targeted therapies. HER2 is a gene identified as having a role in the development of breast cancer.

Pieter then moved to the lab of Jose Baselga at Spain’s Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology and later Harvard Medical School in the United States, where he continued to look for mechanisms of resistance to anti-HER2 therapies and PI3K inhibitors.

Another focus of Pieter’s work at the time was the role of regulatory (or deubiquitinating) enzymes in the transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ) pathway. TGFβ is a secreted protein that performs many cellular functions, including the control of cells’ growth, proliferation, differentiation and death (apoptosis). Pieter’s team discovered that a gene called USP15 directly stabilises the TGFβ receptor enhancing TGFβ activity. Furthermore, it demonstrated that USP15 is amplified in breast cancer and glioblastoma and acts as a key regulator of TGFβ-dependent formation of cancer, or oncogenesis (Nature Medicine 2012).

In early 2013, Pieter moved to the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore as Principal Investigator and continued his research into mechanisms of resistance to targeted therapeutics.

At CHIRI, Pieter is working to find novel adaptive responses to PI3K inhibitors in breast cancer in the hope of identifying patients who will benefit the most from these new treatments.

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