Interview with Dr Prabha Sampath: Her vow to find solutions for cancer therapeutics

SAMPATH__PrabhaI had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Prabha Sampath, a senior Principal Investigator at the Institute of Medical Biology (A*STAR). Dr. Sampath is the recipient of the prestigious A*STAR Investigator award (2007). She joined IMB to set up her own research group in May 2008.  We discussed her lab’s current work on novel therapeutics to treat complicated diseases such as glioblastoma and chronic non-healing wounds. The general public has a lot to look forward to from her research.

How is expression profiling important in identifying or in the diagnosis of diseases?

We use expression profiling to identify specific micro-RNAs, long non-coding RNAs and mRNAs that are aberrantly expressed in a pathological condition. MicroRNAs regulate translation of specific mRNAs thus modulating protein synthesis. Aberrant expression of microRNAs is very common in several pathological conditions including cancer.

Could you summarize your current research for us?

Research in my laboratory is mainly focused on exploring molecular mechanisms of translational regulation/dys-regulation in multiple pathological conditions including cancer and wound healing disorders especially in chronic non-healing wounds. Along with visualizing these interactions at the molecular level, our objective has been to identify specific novel therapeutic targets. One of these projects is on glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain tumor. Here we have identified a micro-RNA which is highly expressed only in a sub-population of cancer stem cells or the tumour initiating stem cell population which are highly resistant to therapy. Depletion of this micro-RNA leads to apoptotic death of cancer stem cells. We are currently working on a therapeutic strategy to eliminate the cancer stem cell population and thus prevent the recurrence or the relapse of the disease.

On another project on wound healing, we have identified a novel regulatory switch that is essential for normal wound healing and orchestrates wound re-epithelialization. We also found this switch is defective in chronic non-healing wounds. Modulation of the defective switch can lead to the development of a new strategy to treat chronic wounds

How is your research going to impact the next 10 years in science?

Glioblastoma is the most aggressive form of cancer and is more or less considered as a death sentence for the patients, with median survival rate of less than 12 months. We hope to develop a drug which in combination with other chemotherapeutic drugs may prevent recurrence/relapse of this deadly form of cancer.

A defective switch in chronic non-healing wounds prevents wound re-epithelialization and wound healing. Especially in chronic diabetic ulcer wounds this could result in amputations. Currently, we are working on a strategy to accelerate wound closure, increase efficacy of wound re-epithelialization and arrest progression of a fresh wound to a chronic non-healing wound.

What are difficulties associated with studying the transcriptome?

It’s not difficult …yes , it is challenging but at the same time it is exciting. We are very focused and we pick candidate genes for further analysis.

Would you encourage research students to enter this field? Would you consider this an upcoming field?

Yes, it is an exciting field.  There is plenty of room for identification of new targets for therapeutic intervention. However, passion and perseverance are the key to success.

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