2017: Dr Aniruddha Chatterjee, University of Otago, Department of Pathology, has been awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship for research entitled: 'Investigating the origin and consequences of epigenetic alterations in cancer metastasis'.
Dr Aniruddha Chatterjee is an expert in epigenetics and analysis of next generation sequencing data. During his PhD research (awarded in 2013 from the University of Otago), he pioneered the first analytical pipeline for large-scale DNA methylation analysis in Australasia and documented some of the first DNA methylation maps in human tissues and zebrafish. At the time of being awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship, he is working as a New Zealand Institute for Cancer Research Trust funded Research Fellow in Department of Pathology at the University of Otago, where his work has enabled the detection of aberrant methylation and microRNA patterns in melanomas and hepatoblastomas. Dr Chatterjee is also an affiliate investigator for the Maurice Wilkins Centre, China-New Zealand Health Research Centre and the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge. He was the recipient of the prestigious Illumina Emerging Researcher Award in 2015 and a young investigator award from the Australian Genomic Research Facility in 2011. Dr Chatterjee is excited to be part of the ‘next generation’ of Kiwi scientists that are able to use their skills, networks and the unique advantages of New Zealand to lead a world-class research programme.
Cancer is a leading cause of illness and death worldwide. Metastasis (the spread of cancers to distant organs) is responsible for about 90% of cancer-related deaths, yet the question of what causes primary cancer cells to become metastatic is still unsolved.
While we have now identified many genetic causes of primary cancers, genetic mutations does not appear to be a causal factor for metastasis. This indicates that DNA modifications that do not directly alter the DNA sequence but instead changes the frequency by which a cell uses specific genes (termed epigenetic modifications), are important in influencing how metastatic cancer cells behave.
In this research programme, using a “Discovery to Function approach”, Dr Chatterjee proposes to identify the mechanism by which specific modifications of DNA alter primary cancer cells to become metastatic. He will identify changes in DNA modifications (e.g., methylation of DNA) and gene expression patterns between primary tumour cells, tumour cells circulating in the blood, and metastatic tumour cells from the same individuals to work out the epigenetic origin of cancer metastasis. Using state of the art epigenomic tools such as single cell level analysis of tumour cells and new epigenetic editing, he will identify drivers of tumour metastasis and specifically engineer these “epigenetic drivers” in model laboratory systems to determine how these changes alter the behaviour of cancer cells.
This research will establish new methods and capability in New Zealand to investigate epigenetic patterns in cancer. The research will furthermore help to answer fundamental questions about the mechanisms responsible for the development of cancer metastasis. In the long term, this work has the potential to improve the way we diagnose, prognose and treat cancer.