Garvan Breakthrough magazine - Aug 2018

Welcome from our Executive Director

It’s DNA, but not as we know it In a world first, our researchers Associate Professor Daniel Christ, Associate Professor Marcel Dinger and Dr Mahdi Zeraati found a new DNA structure – a twisted ‘knot’ they call the i-motif – inside cells. The iconic ‘double helix’ shape of DNA has captured the public imagination since 1953; however, it’s now known that DNA can exist in a few other shapes – in a test tube, at least. Until now, the i-motif had never before been directly seen inside living cells. In fact, scientists had debated whether i-motif ‘knots’ would exist at all inside living things – a mystery that is now solved. Garvan researchers suspect i-motif DNA plays an important role in switching genes on or off. Your secret immunity weapon For years, they’ve had a bad rap – a mysterious population of cells in the immune system once thought to cause harm. But Professor Chris Goodnow, Associate Professor Daniel Christ, Dr Deborah Burnett and others from our Immunology Division have discovered that they could be a potent weapon against invading microbes. These cells produce antibodies that bind to the body’s own tissues, meaning they could cause autoimmune disease. So why does the body keep them alive in the first place? The new findings reveal these cells may be crucial to fighting threats that try to trick our immune system by mimicking the body’s own proteins. These immune cells can be activated to attack when required. Our researchers hope these cells will one day be the basis of vaccines for viruses that hide from the immune system, such as HIV. NEW RESEARCH See the i-motif DNA at garvan.org.au/new-dna . Turbocharging chemotherapy Lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in Australia, is usually treated with platinum chemotherapy – a drug whose effectiveness is limited because many cancers are resistant to it, and because it causes kidney damage. Professor Neil Watkins, along with colleagues, has shown that the naturally occurring hormone follistatin makes platinum chemotherapy much more effective, while also preventing kidney injury. If successful in human trials, this hormone could dramatically improve outcomes for lung cancer patients treated with chemotherapy. The researchers now plan to study other tumours where platinum chemotherapy is commonly used, such as bladder and head and neck cancers. Read the full story at garvan.org.au/secret-weapon .

Dear Garvan family,

I’m so pleased to be able to introduce your August issue of Breakthrough and to have this opportunity to thank you for your support. Many of you know me from my three years as Deputy Director here at Garvan. I’m honoured to have been appointed as the Institute’s fourth Executive Director and build on the legacy of the Institute’s pre-eminent leaders. I’d like to briefly share with you my vision for the future of Garvan, in which we continue our progress towards precision medicine based on each person’s DNA. With a fully integrated approach, our teams are making breakthroughs in treatment and prevention. We’re determined to stop avoidable health issues in their tracks across more than 50 major diseases. And we are taking this broad picture of health all the way into the future. The groundbreaking work of our researchers and clinicians continues, as you’ll read about on the following pages. Our cover story is about our new prediabetes clinical trial underway in collaboration with the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. It’s a new approach to helping people avoid type 2 diabetes. Read the full story on page 7. As always, we thank you for everything you do to assist Garvan’s work – our supporters are as integral to the Institute as our researchers. We love that you are our ambassadors in your communities, spreading the word about medical research. If you have a friend or family member who is interested in what we do, please encourage them to sign up to receive their own issue of Breakthrough at garvan.org.au/breakthrough-signup or by calling our Supporter Services team on 1300 73 66 77. I hope you enjoy this edition of Breakthrough . We would very much appreciate if you would let us know what you enjoy most and would like to see more of by filling in and returning the enclosed survey.

Professor Chris Goodnow faa frs Executive Director The Bill and Patricia Ritchie Foundation Chair

Find out more at garvan.org.au/lung-cancer-discovery .

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