PhD Candidate Profile: Ashleigh Lester

Ash Lester

What is your research about?

My research involves investigating genetic aberrations in ependymomas that can potentially be targeted with existing chemotherapeutic drugs.  Ependymomas are tumours which arise in the brain and spine and are currently treated with surgery and radiotherapy.  However, due to the tumours location, complete surgical excision is only possible in 50% of cases, and despite radiotherapy, 50% of ependymomas recur.    Clinical trials using standard chemotherapy regimes have not led to any improvement in patient survival and the treatment protocols for ependymoma have not changed for over two decades.  Using whole genome methylation profiling I will be able to subgroup and identify common aberrations in patient samples of intracranial ependymoma.  Identification of these aberrations will allow me to identify and select drugs specifically designed to target these aberrations for testing in patient derived ependymoma cell lines and mouse models.  Drugs which are effective in these models, would be candidates for testing in ependymoma patients, with the potential to become additional adjuvant treatments. 

What is translational application of your research?

Given ependymomas are relatively rare, limited research has been carried out into the mechanisms underlying their development and potential treatments.  By identifying genetic aberrations present in patient samples, the research will allow me to identify common aberrations in the different subtypes of intracranial ependymoma.  Testing of drugs designed to specifically target these aberrations in patient derived cell lines and mouse models will provide the opportunity to identify novel chemotherapeutic treatments for patients whose ependymomas present with similar aberrations.  Successful drug treatment in these models, would provide a basis for clinical trials of the drug as an additional adjuvant therapy in appropriate patients.  The identification of effective additional adjuvant therapies for ependymoma offers the potential to: increase progression free survival; reduce the number of surgical procedures required to treat tumour recurrence; and reduce the number of ependymomas which are deemed incurable.

How would the TCRN PhD top-up Scholarship help you succeed?

The TCRN top-up scholarship will greatly assist my PhD by allowing me travel to Western Australia and spend time working in the lab of my co-supervisor’s, who have extensive experience in ependymoma research.  It will also assist me to attend overseas conferences where I can meet the small group of international researchers studying ependymomas, keep up to date with the current research being undertaken and share the findings of my research.