You need a lot of resilience and curiosity to be a researcher

Dr Pilar Dominguez is a senior postdoctoral researcher working with Prof Ricky Johnstone at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Her research is focused on the role that abnormal epigenetics processes play in lymphoma formation with the aim of finding a way to overcome this anomaly. Her research project is funded by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society – Snowdome Foundation – Leukaemia Foundation (LLS-SF-LF) translational research program grant. Mandi Robertson, Snowdome Communications & Strategy Manager, had a chat with Pilar to get a good understanding of her research project and what it could potentially mean for lymphoma patients.

Pilar is passionate about this research project, so passionate in fact that she has moved from New York where she commenced this project, to Australia so she could continue unravelling this puzzle. Pilar has investigated a protein, TET2, that is absent in about 10% of lymphoma patients. To determine the role of this protein, experiments were conducted on normal cells to remove the protein and observe what happens. The cells become malignant indicating that TET2 is a tumour suppressor. This, however, poses another question – the researchers now need to understand why this happens and if epigenetic treatments can compensate for the lack of this protein.

Using mouse models and human cells in vitro and in vivo, Pilar and her team are working to find the best combination of epigenetic treatments to reverse the effects the missing protein has on the cells. The long-term aim is to then scan patients for this mutation and, if it is present, to target the cells with the mutation with the right combination of epigenetic treatments.

Receiving the LLS-SF-LF grant has been life-changing for Pilar. It means for the next three years she can exclusively focus on finding a treatment for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma that is driven by a missing TET2 protein. These long-term funding opportunities for high-risk high reward research are hard to come by. If this funding did not come along, she would need to apply to multiple grants each year, taking her focus away from research, potentially cutting the project short and not uncovering the gains she hopes to make. At the end of the three years, she believes her research will be in a good position to start clinical trials. Her only wish is that there were more organisations like the Snowdome Foundation that understood the value of combining fundamental and translational research.

The Snowdome Foundation would like to thank major donors, The Pratt Foundation, The Harbig Family Foundation and Village Roadshow, for their generous support to launch the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society – Snowdome Foundation – Leukaemia Foundation (LLS-SF-LF) translational research program grants and supporting outstanding researchers such as Dr Pilar Dominguez.