Breakthrough stimulates million dollar grant

15 June 2016, Cancer, Cell biology

Professor Mike Berridge, Cancer Cell Biology Group leader has been awarded just over $1 million by the Health Research Council to investigate the transfer of mitochondria between brain cells, taking earlier ground-breaking research into this little understood cellular process into new territory.  He will lead a team to explore whether mitochondrial transfer can be exploited to improve outcomes for glioblastoma, a highly malignant brain tumour which currently has few treatment options and poor prognosis.

The grant was announced today as one of 52 grants totalling $60 million by the Health Research Council.

Professor Berridge says, ”I am more than thrilled as new health treatments or protocols always begin somewhere in a lab. This funding means the lab will be in New Zealand rather than elsewhere, and over the years this will translate into new knowledge and potential health benefits for Kiwis. The last eighteen months appear to be a watershed for our nation in terms of health research and I’m very conscious of the responsibility of receiving this grant.” 

Last year Professor Berridge co-lead the team that was the first to demonstrate that cancer cells, deprived of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) acquired DNA from surrounding healthy cells to restore their function. While at first glance this would appear to yet another smart tumour tactic to grow and spread, it has opened up several new research possibilities.  It asks fundamental questions about whether mitochondrial transfer between cells is a normal “silent” physiological process since mtDNA damage that contributes to compromised respiratory function occurs in many cancers and is an inevitable consequence of anticancer drug treatments and radiation. That is, many current cancer treatments may drive mitochondrial transfer that promotes tumour growth.

He says, “It is early days but a better understanding of how mitochondrial transfer between cells could lead to the development of new treatment approaches that inhibit transfer and improve clinical outcomes for patients.”

Professor Berridge will work with investigators Dr Melanie McConnell and Professor Mark Hampton Department of Pathology, University of Otago Christchurch on this new project.