About Dr Zaklina Kovacevic

Cancer is a deadly disease primarily due to its ability to metastasize and invade surrounding tissue. The complex processes and signalling cascades that are involved in metastatic progression are poorly understood. As such, metastatic cancers are difficult to treat and have a very high mortality rate. I am passionate about discovering and elucidating the intricate molecular mechanisms that drive cancer metastasis. A clear understanding of how this process occurs will allow us to develop more effective and targeted therapies for the treatment of advanced metastatic cancers.

My research is centred around the metastasis suppressor molecule NDRG1. This particular molecule was found to inhibit cancer metastasis in a number of neoplasms, including prostate, breast, colon, lung and even the highly aggressive pancreatic cancer. However, the mechanisms by which NDRG1 inhibits metastasis were unclear. We have recently discovered that NDRG1 is able to inhibit multiple cell signalling pathways that initiate cancer progression as well as motility and migration. Importantly, we were able to up-regulate NDRG1 expression in cancer cells using a novel class of anti-cancer drugs. These novel agents were found to be highly effective against many cancers, being more potent and less toxic than many currently used anti-cancer therapeutics. Importantly, we have also discovered that these agents are able to overcome resistance to other agents, which is crucial, as resistance is a major problem in cancer treatment. Interestingly, the anti-cancer activity of these agents was found to be potentiated by NDRG1. Hence, my research has paved the way for the development of more effective anti-cancer treatments that utilize important molecular targets, such as NDRG1, to more potently and specifically inhibit cancer progression and metastasis.

I have concentrated my studies on the functional role of the growth and metastasis suppressor, NDRG1, over my entire research career (Honours and Ph.D work with my current mentor Prof. Richardson). I completed a very successful Ph.D. in 2011 and currently have 44 publications in high impact journals (with a further 5 manuscripts submitted and 1 in preparation).  I have received salary support from 2 prestigious Post-Doctoral Fellowships (NHMRC Peter Doherty Fellowship and Cancer Institute New South Wales Early Career Investigator) for my post-doctoral work in Prof. Richardson’s laboratory. In addition, I have also recently received the PdCCRS grant from Cancer Australia to further develop my project examining the function and modulation of NDRG1 in prostate cancer. I am currently leader of the NDRG1 Focus Group in Prof. Richardson’s laboratory and head a team of PhD and Honours students, as well as a Research Assistant. I am also active in the laboratory, being heavily involved in research experiments, which is something I thoroughly enjoy. My studies examining the metastasis suppressor NDRG1 as well as the novel anti-cancer agents that target this molecule have markedly contributed to our understanding of cancer metastasis and how we can therapeutically target this process. Importantly, my work has contributed to the development of the novel cancer chemotherapeutic, DpC, which is set to enter clinical trials this year.

I am very passionate about the work that I do and love having the opportunity to contribute to cutting edge cancer research. My hope is that this work will someday lead to improved outcomes for those suffering cancer. I am also dedicated to fostering the development of young scientist and thoroughly enjoy working with students who share the same passion.