PhD Scholarship Top-up student profile: Dilmi Perera

Dilmi Perera TCRN PhD Scholarship Top-up awardee Dilmi Perera

Computational analysis of the dynamic changes in combinatorial transcriptional regulation during haematopoiesis.

Award:  Dilmi is the recipient of a three-year PhD Scholarship Top-up

Supervisor: Dr. Jason Wong, Team Leader of Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre and Lecturer within the Prince of Wales Clinical School at UNSW

The hypothesis of the research project is that leukaemic cells acquire normal blood stem cell-like gene expression profiles through aberrant transcript regulation. The aim of this PhD is to understand how the key transcription factors regulate gene expression in normal blood stem cells and how this changes in leukaemia.

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What is the translational application of your research?

Leukaemia is a cancer of blood forming stem cells. Each year more than 3000 new cases are reported in Australia, affecting both adults and children. Even though treatments for leukaemia have improved significantly over the past three decades, there remain subtypes of leukaemia where treatment remains a major challenge. In recent years, through whole genome profiling technologies, it has become apparent that malignant leukaemias that show a convergence towards a stem cell expression profile have the worst outcomes. The similarity between leukaemic and normal blood stem cells creates a conundrum for haemato-oncologists, since therapies aimed at eradicating leukaemic clones, risks ablating the pool of normal blood stem cells in the body.

Therefore, if we are to move beyond therapies that generically target the proliferative machinery of cells or biological therapies new treatment paradigms aimed at teasing out biological differences between normal stem and malignant cells is required. My research aims to discover how the regulation of gene expression differs between normal and malignant leukaemic cells. Identification of key changes in gene regulatory pathways in leukaemia will provide new targets for therapy. This will ultimately help improve clinical outcomes for leukaemia patients.

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“The TCRN allows for opportunities to connect with many researchers in my field as well as other stakeholders of my research such as clinicians and patients. Connecting with and learning about the research done by others in the field of translational cancer research adds more perspective to my research particularly as I will be developing computational tools and techniques which will be used by these researchers. In the long run, TCRN will help with my research aspirations as it will provide great networking opportunities through its various events and workshops." 

Dilmi Perera commenced the first year of her PhD studies at the Prince of Wales Clinical School, UNSW in 2013.