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Targeting TERT and the MYCN gene network as a novel therapeutic approach for high-risk neuroblastoma

MYCN belongs to a small family of transcription factors implicated in fundamental cellular processes. There are 3 members of the MYC family in mammalian cells, c-MYC, MYCN and L-MYC. They interact with DNA through a consensus sequence called the E-box (CANNTG) and in concert with the partner MAX facilitate gene transcription. The importance of MYC in cell biology is vast. MYC controls key cellular processes including proliferation, survival and metabolism. Critical to this proposal is the fact that one of the genes positively regulated by MYC is the catalytic subunit of the telomerase complex, TERT . A recent study has shown that genomic rearrangements near the TERT gene are frequent in high-risk neuroblastomas and activation of TERT is particularly frequent in MYCN amplified tumours. These results are supported by our own analysis suggesting that the expression of TERT is significantly predictive of poor prognosis in multiple neuroblastoma datasets.

The central objective of the study is to verify whether inhibition of TERT by a clinically viable inhibitor called Imetelstat and using Fluoxetine-Prozac to inhibit the MYCN signalling network can cause synergistic killing of high-risk, MYCN amplified neuroblastoma cells. In vitro studies: neuroblastoma cell lines will be exposed to increasing concentrations of Imetelstat, Prozac and drug combinations for 24-72 hours and the IC50 will be calculated using MTT/MTS assays. The different cell lines will also be subjected to immunofluorescence analysis with activated caspase-3 antibody, propidium iodide staining and FACS analysis to determine the cell cycle and apoptosis status. In vivo studies: it will be verified if Imetelstat can cause regression of human neuroblastoma tumours transplanted into immunocompromised mice. 

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  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you would be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

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This is a self funded topic

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.

Meet the Supervisor(s)

Arturo Sala - Trained in Biochemistry and Cellular Biology at the University of Rome and the Italian National Institute of Health, I completed a PhD in Biochemistry at the University of Rome “La Sapienza” on the topic of DNA and RNA methylation in relation to muscle cell differentiation.  After a short postdoctoral training in the National Institute of Health in Rome, I won an international post-doctoral fellowship from the Italian Association for Cancer Research (AIRC) and moved to the Kimmel Cancer Institute, Thomas Jefferson University Philadelphia. Working in the laboratory of Prof. Bruno Calabretta, I was the first to characterize the transcription factor and oncoprotein B-MYB and establish its relationship with key tumour suppressor genes, such as p53 and retinoblastoma family members.  In 2001 I was recruited by the UCL Institute of Child Health as Senior Lecturer and later promoted to Reader. In UCL I continued to pursue the study of oncogenic transcription factors in the context of neuroblastoma, a childhood tumour affecting the peripheral nervous system. I was appointed Professor of Translational Cancer Research and Deputy Director of the Brunel Institute of Cancer Genetics and Pharmacogenomics in September 2011. In 2016 I joined the Synthetic Biology Theme in the Institute of Environment, Health and Societes.