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Cancer Research

Prof. Susan Branford

Centre for Cancer Biology, SA Pathology, Adelaide, Australia

Early in her career, Sue Branford was working in a pathology laboratory when her mentor encouraged her to start studying for a Ph.D. Now she is a National Health and Medical Research Council Research Fellow and leads the International Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia Genomics Alliance.

Cancer research is important to me because…

Cancer touches many people at some stage during their lifetime and being involved in cancer research is a privilege and is rewarding on many fronts. I have been fortunate that my research has translated into the clinic to directly benefit patients and influence management decisions. Individual patients have been monitored over the course of successful therapy for many years and we continue to work toward finding the reasons why some patients don’t have a successful outcome.

The person who inspired me most in my career was…

Professor Tim Hughes is a hematologist and world leading expert in the study of chronic myeloid leukemia. He encouraged me to undertake a Ph.D. after working with him for a few years as a research assistant. I am grateful that he found value in my work. He has the ability to review data summaries and draft research papers and immediately recognize the key points that should be further explored. This has always led to enhanced outcomes.

If I were starting my career again…

I had an unusual path towards a career in research where I started work in a diagnostic pathology lab and studied on the job. This provided good grounding for translation of my subsequent research into patient management, however, I lack an understanding of the tribulations of undertaking an undergraduate degree with the aim of a career in research. This makes mentoring difficult in some cases.

The happiest moment in my scientific career was…

There are many happy moments and they mostly involve discovery. I enjoy nothing more than trawling through large datasets and finding potential new reasons for treatment failure.

The most important publication in cancer research is …

My research is focused on chronic myeloid leukemia and for this disease a breakthrough discovery occurred in the 1990’s. A drug was developed that targets the specific genetic lesion that causes the disease. But the significance of the drug was not immediately apparent. Dr Brian Druker, a hematologist from Portland, USA, saw its potential. He published his findings in Nature Medicine in 1996 on the effect of the drug on the growth of leukemic cells. The final sentence of the abstract prophetically stated: “the compound may be useful in the treatment of bcr-abl-positive leukemias.“ The rest is history – these drugs are now frontline therapy and patients with chronic myeloid leukemia no longer invariably die. The vast majority now have a near normal survival.

The most important research breakthrough is …

I hope this is still to come but I was pleased to be involved in the discovery of the major mechanism of drug resistance for patients treated with tyrosine kinase inhibitor drugs. This is a mutation within the portion of the fusion gene where the drug binds. Characterization of the mutations is essential for patients with drug resistance and guides subsequent drug selection.

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“We continue to work toward finding the reasons why some patients don’t have a successful outcome.”
Prof. Susan Branford
Interview with Susan Branford

Interview with Susan Branford about leukaemia research, funding and applications for next-generation sequencing. Prof. Branford is especially interested in helping those patients with chronic myeloid leukemia that traditional treatments fail because of genomic abnormalities.

The most important advancement in cancer research that must happen in the next five years …

Providing comprehensive mutation analysis for all patients with cancer at the time of diagnosis. Cancer is a mutation-driven process and government support to fund genomics from the health care budget is essential for improved patient outcomes. Research has identified genomic biomarkers of response and identified targets for therapy. Mutation profiles inform risk stratification. No doubt genomics will drive drug development in the future.

How societies should change over the next 10 years to help control and prevent cancer …

Greater promotion of lifestyle changes. Particularly in resource poor countries. Reducing the rates of smoking is fundamental to preventing cancer. This requires both societal and government commitment and intervention.

I would recommend to young scientists …

Working hard is a significant path to success and, of course luck plays a role. Find joy in discovery and in finding evidence to support a hypothesis. It doesn’t need to be groundbreaking to be exciting.

I want to be remembered for …

I would like to be remembered for having the ability to explain complex concepts in a simple manner.

Professor Susan Branford, PhD, FFSc (RCPA)

Professor Sue Branford is Head of the Leukaemia Lab in the Department of Genetics and Molecular Pathology at SA Pathology. She is a National Health and Medical Research Council Research Fellow and Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia Faculty of Science. Her research is focused on understanding the factors that predict for response to tyrosine kinase inhibitor therapy and the mechanisms of drug resistance for patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia. Dr Branford leads the International Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia Genomics Alliance, which aims to establish a genomically based risk classification system. She was the recipient of the International Chronic Myeloid Leukemia Foundation Prize in 2016 for outstanding contributions to the improvement of treatment in emerging economic regions, and the International Federation of Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine Distinguished Award in 2017 for significant contributions in molecular diagnostics.

Thank you!

On behalf of Prof. Susan Branford, QIAGEN has donated 500 euros to the DKMS (an organization that arranges stem cell donation in Germany and internationally) to support them in their fight against blood cancer.

For more information, or to register as a potential donor, visit www.dkms.org.

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