“Functional genomics” speeds up cancer test

Professor Nigel McMillan from the Griffith Health Institute
Professor Nigel McMillan from the Griffith Health Institute

The use of ‘functional genomics’ to target and test possible cancer lines within a person’s genes is speeding up the race to find cancer cures, with scientists now able to more quickly and accurately identify a range of influences on a cancer cell line.

Scientist from the Molecular Basis of Disease (MBoD) research group at the Griffith Health Institute (GHI) have begun targeting the role of the human papillomavirus (HPV) using siRNA in a number of cancers, including skin, head and neck cancers and mesothelioma.

Rapid testing of causes and effects

Professor Nigel McMillan, the group’s director has become a key exponent of the technique and sees its advantages in quickly sifting through possible cancer causes, rather than the previous ‘organic’ process.

Short interfering RNA or silencing RNA, is a class of double-stranded RNA molecules which interferes with the expression of specific genes in a sequence. By applying these siRNA to human cancer cells they can ‘light up’ the cells being affected, making it easier to identify what is affecting them and begin searching for a therapy for those cells.

“Identifying highly effective targets in cancers has previously been a hit-or-miss affair using large natural product libraries or other approaches. Functional genomics and siRNA libraries affords a much more focused approach with far less time and effort,” Professor McMillan said.

“We can more easily find sensitivities in those cancers and look for ways of knocking them out. “

New possibilities for old techniques

The testing technique is also opening up possibilities for retesting therapies which didn’t quite pass regulations for their original purpose.

“There’s a lot of great drugs out there which didn’t quite get over the line, but which might prove effective in a more targeted therapeutic regime.”