Prof Ricky Johnstone is using epigenetics to find new ways to treat Lymphoma

Professor Ricky Johnstone is the Head of the Gene Regulation Laboratory at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Head, The Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology, The University of Melbourne.  He is the recipient of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society-Snowdome Foundation–Leukaemia Foundation Translational Research grant.  His mission is to uncover a new therapy to treat lymphomas presenting with TET2 mutations.  We truly believe if anyone can Ricky and his team at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre can.  We asked Ricky a few questions about this project, his most frustrating and his most exciting discovery.

Q.How did you end up becoming a blood cancer researcher and then more specifically researching genetics?

A. The way that the blood system develops and is utilised in normal circumstances has always intrigued me. There are excellent experimental models to study these processes and then determining what went wrong in the genomes of blood cancer cells was a natural progression.

Q.If you had to summarise what your Leukemia & Lymphoma Society-Snowdome Foundation–Leukaemia Foundation Translational Research grant project is about in one sentence what would it be?

A. Understanding how diffuse large B cell lymphoma develops and developing new therapies to treat this disease

Q. What will be the impact of this research project on lymphoma patients?

A. We hope that our research will provide new therapeutic avenues for lymphoma patients in the future.

Q. What has been your most exciting discovery?

A. We discovered genetic and biochemical pathways that are deregulated in acute myeloid leukaemia that has shed new light on how this form of cancer develops.  We have also been involved in the development of new therapies to treat AML and other blood cancers.  We hope to apply these learnings to lymphoma.

Q. What has been your most frustrating project?

A. We have had one project ongoing for the last three years that requires one final piece to the puzzle for it to be completed.  We have been developing new experimental models to complete the study and have FINALLY cracked it…..its been frustrating because only 1% of the project remained to be done before we could finish the manuscript.

Q. How important are independent grants funded by Philanthropic donations compared to NHMRC or Pharmaceutical grants

A. A diverse funding stream is essential if we are going to prosecute projects aimed at answering difficult and important questions.  Government funding like the NHMRC is stretched and grants from pharmaceutical companies can sometimes be a little too restrictive.  Philanthropic grants allow us to be nimble and to quickly address important issues.