Dr Michelle Henderson joined Children’s Cancer Institute in 2006, where she is Research Manager in the Molecular Diagnostics Group and a Senior Scientist in the Molecular Oncology Group. She holds a Conjoint Senior Lecturer position in the UNSW Faculty of Medicine.
‘As a scientist, I want to know why and how things work – that’s what got me to the Institute,’ says Michelle. ‘But once I came here, I realised how big the need is in childhood cancer research. I also saw how families are counting on researchers like us to make a difference.’
In the Molecular Diagnostics Group, Michelle jointly leads and manages minimal residual disease (MRD) testing nationally for children with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL). This work delivers test results that determine the treatment received by children with ALL around Australia. Looking to the future, a key goal in this area is to leverage the latest technologies to continually improve MRD detection and monitoring.
Michelle’s work in the Molecular Oncology Group centres on two main areas of need: finding new ways to treat infant leukaemia, a particularly difficult-to-treat type of leukaemia in children under one, and identifying new targets for the treatment of high-risk neuroblastoma. She led the infant leukaemia team in conducting screening programs to identify and develop inhibitors of infant leukaemia cells, and together with fellow Senior Scientist Klaartje Somers is now further developing two of these inhibitors towards clinical trials in children.
In her research into improving the treatment of neuroblastoma, Michelle was joint lead author on a study demonstrating that ABC transporters are key downstream targets of the MYCN oncoprotein, with fundamental roles in cancer biology beyond drug efflux. More recently, her lab discovered a key role for the translation factor ABCE1 in MYCN-mediated protein synthesis, highlighting ABCE1 as an exciting potential therapeutic target in some of the worst cases of neuroblastoma. This work was published in the international journal Cancer Research.
‘I really hope to see some of these new approaches developed and translated into clinical trials,’ says Michelle. ‘When you’re working on finding new drugs to target cancers, you like to see them make it all the way into the clinic. And I think we’ve got a good chance of doing that.’
Michelle has published more than 40 original research articles, four reviews and two book chapters, and is co-inventor on a patent.