Dr Prahlad Raninga
‘Most patients initially respond to treatment but in a year or two the disease relapses and is fatal, which is why it’s so crucial to develop new treatments for this type of cancer’
Developing novel combination therapies to treat triple negative breast cancer.
Dr Prahlad Raninga is a Post-Doctoral Research Officer at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane. Having been born and brought up in India, where he completed a B. Pharmacy degree, Prahlad relocated to the UK to study for his MSc in cancer biology.
He then worked in labs in the UK and Singapore before moving to Australia in 2013 to complete his PhD at Griffith University, which resulted in five strong first-author research publications. During his doctorate studies, Prahlad was awarded the Young Scientist Travel Award by the International Union for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and was invited to present his work at a conference in Canada in 2016. He commenced his position at the QIMR in January 2017.
Throughout his career Prahlad has primarily focused his research interests on cancer biology, signalling and therapeutics. And he has worked on different types of the disease including leukaemia, multiple myeloma and colorectal carcinomas.
Prahlad’s Cure Cancer-supported research (he already has a Cure Cancer grant) is focused on identifying novel molecular targets for therapy. He is also studying the molecular mechanism that may cause drug resistance in patients, and identifying ways to overcome “chemoresistance” in cancers. Currently he is investigating triple negative breast cancer, a very aggressive form.
There’s obviously an urgent need to develop new treatments for triple negative breast cancer, which is difficult to treat, he says, and has a five-year survival rate of around 77 percent compared with 93 percent for other breast cancer types.
“These tumours don’t express hormone receptors like other types of breast cancers and therefore can’t be treated by anti-hormone therapies,” Prahlad observes. “The mainstay of treatment is chemotherapy, which triple negative patients respond to initially. But the disease then relapses within a short period and doesn’t respond to the same treatment again.”
Moreover patients have a mutation in a gene known as TP53. No targeted therapies are currently available for forms of triple negative breast cancer associated with mutant forms of this genes, he says.
“We identified a gene which is amplified more in mutant p53 triple negative breast cancer and . . . a specific inhibitor which selectively kills mutant cells. I’m testing the anti-tumour activity of the inhibitor alone and in combination with other drugs to target the disease.”
His results have already shown that the inhibitor identified suppressed the growth of the cancer in various pre-clinical models as well as primary tumours. These findings will lead to more investigation and a drug in clinical trial, he adds.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FUNDING
Prahlad sees the Cure Cancer Australia grants as a “vital milestone” in his career. The grants and awards are “extremely prestigious” in Australia and worldwide, and the funding will allow him to continue independent research, publish high-quality scientific publications and translate his ideas from bench to the clinic – “hopefully leading to novel treatments for one of the most life-threatening of cancers”.
“I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to donors and fundraisers for their generous support of Cure Cancer and early-career researchers like me. Without you we’d never be in a position to conduct research that can make a significant contribution to the wellbeing of cancer patients. You encourage and motivate us.”
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