PhD Candidate Profile: Meredith Hill

Screen Shot 2018-11-13 at 9.38.41 am Photo Credit: Shane Lo

What is your research about?

Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC) affects the regions of the mouth, throat, nose and sinuses, and is currently the sixth most common form of cancer worldwide. Over the past decade, there has been an increase in the number of diagnosed HNSCC cases in Australia. However, the 5-year survival rate of this disease has remained at 50%. This poor survival rate may be attributed to a lack of understanding surrounding the molecular basis of this disease.

 My project focuses on a subset of small regulating molecules, called microRNAs (miRNAs), their expression and their function in HNSCC. The overall aim of this project is to investigate the interactions of miRNAs, and their influence on HNSCC development. A particular focus of this project is to uncover the interplay between different miRNAs and how this contributes to aberrant gene regulation and molecular processes in cancer. This knowledge of miRNAs and their role in HNSCC can be used to develop personalised medicines and therapeutics for this disease.

What is translational application of your research?

This project will allow us to identify the role of miRNA interplay in HNSCC, and how these interactions impact upon the cellular and molecular mechanisms that are involved in cancer development. By creating a network between miRNAs and their affected genes, we will ultimately be able to identify a ‘master regulator’ miRNA, which controls the majority of the miRNA environment, and whose dysregulation lead to oncogenic changes.

By identifying this ‘master regulator’ in individual HNSCC patients, personalised therapeutics can be developed against that particular miRNA. In focusing treatment on the ‘master regulator miRNA’, the expression levels of the other miRNAs will also return close to their physiological levels. These changes would consequently impact upon the gene environment, and bring the cell back to a stable, non-malignant state. By understanding these interactions, the off-target effects and efficacy of miRNA therapeutics would also be established, limiting the detriment and impact of miRNA therapeutics on a patient’s overall health and wellbeing.

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

The receipt of the TCRN PhD top-up award will aid in the advancement of my research, and help me in achieving my goal of developing a miRNA interaction network in HNSCC. This scholarship will further assist in funding conferences and workshops that will broaden the scope of my research project, and further my understanding the impact of miRNA interplay within HNSCC.