News Feature | April 3, 2014

Researchers Use 3D Computer Technology To Create New Blood Cancer Drug

By Marcus Johnson

The St. Vincent's Institute of Medical Research in Australia is working to develop new blood cancer drugs to combat leukemia in the country. Dr. Jessica Holien is leading the project. She received a $100,000 National Research Program postdoctoral fellowship from the Leukemia Foundation and Cure Cancer Australia. Altogether, the Leukemia Foundation and Cure Cancer Australia will be providing nearly $13 million in funding for projects across the country that are developing new treatments for blood cancers.

At St. Vincent's Dr. Holien aims to use new 3D computer technology in order to track how proteins interact and develop blood cancers. Based on how the computer models interact, the research team will design drugs to stop the protein interactions. Dr. Holien described the process as being similar to a game. “The best way to describe what I do is, it is like the computer block-stacking game Tetris,” said Dr. Holien. “If we can fit it tightly, the drug is more active, more potent and there are fewer side-effects.”

Dr. Holien's team has already been able to successfully block the 14-3-3 protein by using the computer modeling method. She believes that the computer modeling method better enables the visualization of tiny proteins. Not to mention, it is also a cheaper and quicker way to identify treatment potentials compared to other research methods.

St. Vincent's project is 1 of 21 that the Leukemia Foundation and Cure Cancer Australia are funding. Other research institutions receiving funding from the foundation include the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. Blood cancers are currently the third largest cause of cancer death in Australia.