PhD Candidate Profile: Yuan-yin Chen


What is your research about?

About 10-15% cancers activate Alternative-lengthening-of-telomeres (ALT) to extend telomeres and acquire immortality. However, ALT patient groups have been found to have poor median survivals, ranging from one to five years. So far, there is no specific biomarkers and treatments for ALT cancer patients. Our lab has found out that C-Circles (extrachromosomal telomeric DNA) are highly associated with ALT cancers and present in blood samples from bone cancer patients with this cancer activity and not healthy volunteers. The aims of this project are to investigate C-Circle (CC) biology and function(s) and develop the C-Circle Assay (CCA) as a clinical diagnostic for ALT activity.  

What is translational application of your research?

A convenient blood test to measure ALT cancer activity would be useful to guide and optimise current cancer treatment, such as by monitoring response to therapy in real time, surveillance for recurrence and more accurately estimating prognosis. The CCA is the only clinically amenable quantitative ALT assay and the only ALT assay that can be performed on patient blood specimens. ALT-targeted cancer cures are being developed that could provide effective, low side-effect cures; however, they will require identification of the appropriate target patient population for use in clinical trials. This project develops the C-Circle blood test, which will be critical for future advancement of these new ALT-targeted cancer medicines.

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

Understanding how to translate our research to the clinic for the benefit of patients is fundamental to medical research. TCRN facilitates this by providing opportunities to gain knowledge in translating our research through participation in cancer roundtable seminars and professional workshops. TCRN also encourages networking through these events, which is critical to our medical research careers.