A KILKENNY woman is head of a highly prestigious research team which has made a major scientific breakthrough which will have a huge impact on cancer treatment and in helping to identify people who may be at at higher risk of giving birth to children with spina bifida.
Dr Anne Parle-McDermott (nee Parle) is originally from No. 4 O’Loughlin Road in the city where her parents Jack and Mary still live and she now resides in South Kilkenny. Her team at Dublin City University (DCU) discovered a new gene in the human body which is almost identical to the one that is used by doctors to stops cancerous cells from reproducing. This gene was thought to have been a zombie or dead gene with no function but Anne’s discovery has proved that it may have a huge role to play in treating those with leukaemia and other cancers.
The importance of her work is put into perspective by Enda Connolly, Chief Executive at the Irish Health Research Board said; “Irish researchers led by Dr Parle-McDermott have made a significant discovery on the Irish and global stage. Not only do the findings offer the potential for improved leukaemia treatment, but it could re-write what we thought we knew about so-called zombie genes and open up countless new avenues for cancer treatment in general.”
Anne who is married with two children commutes from Ballyhale to DCU in Dublin and it takes her about an hour and half thanks to the motorway. However, she does have some latitude with research fellows doing some of the experiments for her in the lab allowing her to concentrate on the results. And thanks to a good broadband connection via satellite, she can work from home a good bit more than she used to, making a hectic life a little bit easier.
The findings of the work were recently published in the highly respected Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States. The research found that one particular pseudogene, known as DHFRL1, wasn’t actually as dead as had been thought. DHFRL1 has a ‘famous cousin’, a gene called DHFR that is very important when treating some forms of leukaemia.
Conventional treatments knock out the ‘famous cousin’ which makes leukaemia cells die. Anne’s research has shown that the zombie gene DHFRL1 may also play an important role in leukaemia. By targeting treatment to knock out both genes, you could possibly improve the chance of success. ‘The finding has huge implications, given many of the thousands of known pseudogenes may not be zombies at all,” Anne said.
The finding could also be significant in spina bifida research as DHFR is involved in the regulation of folic acid. The zombie gene might allow a test to warn if a woman is at higher risk of having a baby with the condition.
Anne juggles life as a world renowned scientist while being a mother to Fionn and Ciara, and wife to her husband, Paul, whom she enticed away from the Big Smoke to Ballyhale.