Judith Black AO MB BS PhD FRACP
Professor and NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow
8 August 2011
Early in 2011, the Cell Biology group of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research received what is thought to be the first ever Australian National Health and Medical Research Council grant for studies investigating Lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). The grant runs for three years from 2011.
Our research project involves studying human lung cells and tissue, some of which are from patients with LAM, who have generously donated tissue for research at the time of a lung transplantation.
We are collaborating with two renowned scientists at Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Institute, Dr Marc Achen and Dr Steve Stacker – both world experts in lymphangiogenesis.
The project focuses on our novel finding that the lungs of women with LAM lack a protein we have named “lamstatin”. In healthy people, lamstatin inhibits lymphangiogenesis, that is, the formation of new lymph vessels, and the uncontrolled multiplication of lymph vessel cells. Lymphangiogenesis is associated with the LAM disease process as well as being critical to the spread of cancers through the lymphatic system. Thus, any knowledge gained about lymphangiogenesis in relation to LAM could have important consequences for the treatment of cancers.
Our collaborators in Melbourne are extending the studies we have undertaken in Finland with Dr Caroline Heckman. These studies show that when lamstatin is applied to a mouse ear tumour, the protein inhibits an associated increase in local lymph vessel formation. In the experiments to be conducted by Dr Achen and Dr Stacker, lamstatin will be tested on a mouse tumour model in which the cancer is no longer localised, but has spread to other organs. The findings will be critical for LAM and for metastatic cancer in general.
Amplifying the NHMRC funding, money raised by LARA is covering the high costs of applying molecular biology techniques to produce synthetic lamstatin, to buy and house mice, and to carry out the experiments. By completing the mouse experiments, we hope to progress this very important area of research.
The combination of the Woolcock’s innovative findings regarding human cells and tissues and our collaborators’ knowledge and expertise should enable us to make a significant impact on the treatment of LAM, a devastating disease affecting women, for which there is currently no cure.