Congratulations to Dr Emily Fletcher
Congratulations to our most recent Ethan Davies Fellow, Dr Emily Fletcher, who will undertake the Ion Channel Drugs for the Treatment of Aggressive Childhood Brain Tumours project, led by Professor Terry Johns and co-funded by the Robert Connor Dawes Foundation.
Dr Emily Fletcher is a world leading expert in understanding how variations in genes can cause the dysfunction of specialised proteins called ion channels. These variations underlie many neurological disorders including brain tumour progression. Ion channels are pores in cell membranes, which allow electrically charged metal ions to pass from one side of the cell membrane to the other, generating small electrical currents that are fundamental to spinal cord and brain function. Drugs to treat neurological disorders often target ion channels to rectify their function, but their effectiveness can vary greatly between individuals.
Dr Fletcher’s eight years of research in the field has focused on understanding how subtle changes in the genes of patients suffering from epilepsy, motor neuron disease and neuropathic pain can change the behaviour of their ion channels, and thus their response to therapeutic drugs. Similarly, mediated by changes in ion channels, cancerous brain tumours such as diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPGs) and ependymomas are “plastic” and can dynamically alter their composition in response to conventional cancer drug therapy, developing resistance. Consequently, successful targeted therapies available for many cancers are ineffective for DIPG and ependymoma treatment.
As the first internationally-sourced Ethan Davies Fellow, Dr Fletcher will be involved in identifying key changes in ion channels from a diverse panel of patient-derived DIPG and ependymoma cells that potentially mediate tumour plasticity. Using state-of-the-art biophysical and biochemical techniques, she will characterise the ion channels on the surface of these cells and functionally test the anti-tumour activity of ion-channel-targeting drugs. Ethan’s Fellowship will allow her to further determine whether combination therapy of ion-channel-targeting and conventional anti-cancer drugs will prevent tumour growth in DIPG and ependymoma models. If successful, drug combinations determined by this research could be rapidly translated to the clinic, greatly improving patient treatment and survival.
With experience at the University of Cambridge and Columbia University Medical Centre, Dr Fletcher has now moved to Australia to apply her expertise in this area to develop new brain cancer treatments.