One of the Gold Coast’s finest young minds, Griffith PhD student Prue Plummer has taken out the 2012 Rotary Gold Coast Young Achievers in Vocational Excellence Award.

Prue’s prize, presented by former Griffith Vice Chancellor Graham Jones, was awarded for her exceptional work on the origins and development of tumours with a view to preventing their development into cancer.

The $500 prize was presented following Prue’s publication in the prestigious American Association for Cancer Research Journal and her award for the best student presentation at the National Cancer Research Conference in Victoria.

“Working in a laboratory you’re pretty removed from the world, focused on the tiniest biological things. You never think anybody outside your field is going to notice your work, so it comes as a huge, but very pleasant surprise when an award like this comes along.”

The results of her research have had Prue fielding job offers from some of the leading UK and American universities.

Tumours can exist in people’s bodies in a benign state without developing into cancer. For a cancer to grow, a tumour must develop new blood vessels from the bone marrow called Endothelial Progenitor Cells (EPCs), a process called angiogenesis.

However, angiogenesis is part of our immune system, helping us recover from diseases and injuries by giving life to new blood vessels to rebuild and heal. It is when this cell reproduction goes out of control that people develop cancer.

The 25 year old’s research has shown that EPCs have high levels of a naturally occurring regulator called MicroRNA 10b (miR-10b) which causes them to be activated and the tumour to grow.

Experiments by Prue and the team at the Host Response to Cancer Laboratory at Griffith have found a way of suppressing the presence of miR-10b and thus stopping tumours from becoming malignant. Unsurprisingly this technology is called an anti-miR.

“This hopefully can lead to a new cancer therapy that is not as harsh on the body as chemo-therapy, which essentially kills all the growing cells in the body as well as the cancer cells.

“If we can find a preventative method of tackling the tumour before it becomes an established tumour that would be a pretty amazing thing,” Prue said.

Her supervisor, Dr Albert Mellick credits Prue’s hard work, intelligence and efficiency as the keys to her success.

“The thing with Prue’s work is that is it all high quality, basic science, running experiments over and over again and re-testing them – all the basics of science we do from high school,” said Dr Mellick.

“There’s nothing fancy or overly theoretical, just good, rigorous science.”

In turn Prue credits her four years behind the counter at Robina KFC with teaching her everything she needed to know about efficiency.

Prue first went to Griffith as part of a high school bridging course when she was sixteen, did her work experience and all of her study at the Gold Coast campus.

She said she is non-plussed about her future career choices.

“I don’t know, I was thinking about New York, but then I’ve been there before so I’m not really sure where I’ll go.”