The tiny discovery that had a big impact on cancer research

Sometimes it is the small things that can make a big difference. For cell biologist Dr Archa Fox, her discovery of a tiny new structure in human cells has led to promising new research into the causes and treatment of breast cancer.

Moving into cancer research was a natural evolution for me because I really wanted my research to make a difference for people and patients. Even though I started out with a very fundamental discovery, I could rapidly see that I could use my knowledge to improve both the diagnosis and treatment of common cancers.

Her research centres around a little molecular dot called a paraspeckle. Despite their miniscule size, paraspeckles appear to have major impact on how the cells in our body behave. They do this by influencing how our genes are turned on and off, controlling whether a cell grows, multiplies or moves. This, alongside the fact they seem to lurk in cancer tissue, has led scientists around the globe to look at how they might cause cancer.

In world-first research funded by Cancer Council, Dr Fox has begun an innovative study in collaboration with Professor Robin Anderson of the Olivia Newton John Cancer Centre that specifically looks at the relationship between paraspeckles and aggressive forms of breast cancer. This is particularly important work, because once breast cancer cells spread, the chances of surviving the cancer are much lower.

Cancer Council funding has a huge impact on the overall research capacity of Australia. We have very limited funding options compared to other countries, and Cancer Council plays a key role in supporting our best and brightest researchers. Without this support, these researchers may leave the field or take their research overseas.

Whilst the research is still in early stages, initial findings are showing great promise. We may soon be able to use our knowledge of paraspeckles to help health professionals diagnose and treat aggressive breast cancers early, saving and improving the lives of women diagnosed with these devastating cancers.

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