Dr Das' research involves investigating the role epigenetics plays in the development and maintenance of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML).
Epigenetics began as a theory of how a whole organisms can develop from a single cell. Over nine months in the womb, an incredible process takes place, the development of all the various cells and organs that make up our bodies. Because every cell has the same DNA code, extra markings must be required to tell each cell which part of the DNA code they should be using. In other words, these epigenetic markings help cells remember their identity. A similar process takes place on a daily basis where our bone marrow generates many different blood cell types from stem cells.
When bone marrow cells acquire mutations in DNA that affect this process, they become dysfunctional and potentially cancerous. This is in fact what we see with AML. Because epigenetic markings can be written or erased, the effects are potentially reversible. Recent pre-clinical data suggests that patients with specific mutations could benefit from treatment with ascorbate. This grant was awarded for Dr Das to develop epigenetic and bioinformatic expertise. The data the project generates will help the rational design of clinical trials with respect to the use of ascorbate for treating specific AML subtypes.