Molecular studies of thyroid cancer and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma


Identification of novel genes and miRNAs as predictors of thyroid cancer progression.


Dr Susan McLennan

Research Location

Camperdown - School of Medical Sciences - Bosch Institute

Program Type



1) Thyroid cancer project: Thyroid cancer is the most common endocrine malignancy and its incidence is increasing worldwide. In New South Wales, thyroid cancer is now the third most common cancer in females aged 15-39 years. In most cases, the initial presentation is a thyroid nodule. Thyroid nodules are, however, common in the general population, with prevalence of 5-20%, and even higher if ultrasound is used. However, majority of these nodules are benign. The challenge that a doctor faces is how to distinguish the malignant from the benign tumours.

Certain genes such as BRAF are often mutated in papillary thyroid cancer. More recently, changes in the levels of microRNAs (miRNAs), short (19-25 base pairs) RNA sequences which negatively regulate gene expression at the post transcriptional level, have been implicated in various types of cancer. A number of miRNAs have been found to be upregulated in papillary thyroid carcinoma (PTC) (e.g., miR-221, miR-222 and MiR146). Thus, miRNAs could potentially be important diagnostic and prognostic markers of PTC. The proposed project involves the use of molecular techniques to identify differential expression of genes or miRNAs in cancerous thyroid tissue and corresponding normal thyroid tissue. After validation the role of these genes in cancer progression will be investigated in detail.

2) Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma project: Cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC) make up 20% of all non-melanoma skin cancers and is associated with a substantial risk of metastases, morbidity and mortality, with the head and neck being the most common site of occurence. The five year survival rates of cSCC patients at early and advanced stages are 95-99% and 13-40% consecutively. Although the incidence of lymph node metastasis from cSCC is less than 1%, the poorer prognosis at advanced stages of cSCC is attributed to metastatic disease.

To explore reliable diagnostic and prognostic biomarkers for cancers recent attention has focused on a class of non-coding RNA called micro-RNA (miRNA). These molecules have been shown to have a regulatory role of the protein-coding messenger-RNA (mRNA). A growing body of evidence suggests that miRNA expression may become prognostic and diagnostic indicators for human cancers, however no studies have examined the role of miRNA expression in head and neck cSCC.

The proposed projects involve the use of molecular techniques to identify differential expression of genes or miRNAs in cancerous tissue and corresponding normal tissue. After validation the role of these genes in cancer progression will be investigated in detail.

Additional Information

Approaches: molecular biology, biochemistry, pathology, cell biology, immunology.

Techniques: quantitative RT-PCR, gene expression techniques, microscopy, histopathology, cell culture, flow cytometry. Other Information: Dr McLennan's Laboratory has access to first class facilities. Her research group contains 1 postdoctoral fellow, 2 PhD students and a full time Research Assistant.

Scholarships: The opportunity is available primarily for prospective PhD students. Honours degree is required. Applicant is expected to apply for PhD scholarship.

Other PhD and Honours Projects are available, or can be negotiated.

The project may be adjusted to an Honours Project.

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thyroid, Cancer, Genetics, miRNA, Squamous cell carcinoma

Opportunity ID

The opportunity ID for this research opportunity is: 1629

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