JUL 19, 2018 9:00 AM PDT

Investigating the role of microRNAs in pancreatic cancer progression

  • Research Associate, Imperial College London
      Silvia is an expert in non-coding RNAs (ncRNAs) biology in cancer. She is currently a post-doctoral researcher at Imperial College London, looking at the role of ncRNAs in cancers, mainly pancreatic and breast cancers. Silvia's research has been predominantly focused on microRNAs (miRNAs), however more recently she expanded her work on long non-coding RNAs too. Silvia has recently published her main post-doctoral project in Nature Communications journal where she investigated novel miRNAs involved in the TGF-β response in pancreatic cancer. She is also co-author of several publications on miRNAs in cancer and she is author of two comprehensive reviews on the role of ncRNAs in health and disease.

      Silvia obtained a BSc in Medical Biotechnology from University San-Raffaele in Milan in 2007. During her undergraduate studies she was awarded a competitive scholarship to undertake a summer research internship in the RNA laboratory of Dr Elisa Izaurralde at EMBL in Heidelberg. Silvia then obtained an MSc in Molecular Medicine in 2008 and a PhD in cancer biology in 2012 both from Imperial College London. Silvia's PhD was funded by the Prostate Cancer Charity and was carried out under the supervision of Dr Laki Buluwela and Prof. Simak Ali. During her PhD she investigated the function of glycine N-methyltransferase, a newly identified androgen-regulated gene in prostate cancer. With a strong background in RNA biology and cancer biology, Silvia joined the laboratory of Prof. Justin Stebbing and Dr Leandro Castellano where she is currently conducting her post-doctoral research on ncRNAs in cancer.

      Silvia is also extremely passionate about teaching and she has always endeavoured to be actively involved in education alongside her research. She has supervised several Master students, visiting undergratuate students and she has recently become a deputy module leader for teaching Molecular and Cellular Biology to BSc students at Imperial College London.

    DATE:  July 19, 2018
    TIME:  09:00am PDT

    Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is a deadly disease with a 5 year-survival rate of approximately 6%. Despite recent efforts in developing novel therapies, chemotherapy remains the standard of care for advance pancreatic cancer patients. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are short non-coding RNAs that act as post-transcriptional negative regulators of gene expression. Our laboratory is interested in investigating how miRNAs dysregulation contribute to PDAC tumourigenesis. One of the major signalling pathways that drives tumourigenesis in PDAC is the TGF-β pathway. This pathway promotes epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), metastasis and stemness. In this study we aimed to find out whether miRNAs were involved in the TGF-β response, as this was yet largely unknown. We used miRNA expression profiling and identified miRNAs regulated by TGF-β. We then focused on the top two miRNAs upregulated by TGF-β and characterized their role in PDAC. We used several strategies to inhibit the function of these miRNAs, including the genome editing approach CRISPR. With these systems we showed that silencing of these miRNAs impaired EMT, motility, stemness in vitro and tumourigenesis and metastasis in vivo. Furthermore, we identified globally the targets of these miRNAs by integrating AGO2-RIP sequencing with RNA-sequencing upon overexpression of the miRNA of interest. We found that the candidate miRNA targets significantly overlap and mainly inhibit p53 and cell to cell junctions’ pathways, which are all important in PDAC progression. We also showed that the candidate miRNAs were up-regulated in PDAC patient samples, and their specific tumoral expression strongly correlated with reduced overall survival and disease-free survival. These findings demonstrate a fundamental role of miRNAs within the TGF-β response and represent potential novel targets for therapeutic intervention in PDAC.

    Learning Objectives:

    • Understand the role of miRNAs in pancreatic cancer
    • Learn how miRNAs affect tumourigenesis and metastasis using in vitro and in vivo models
    • Learn how we can efficiently identify miRNA functional targets using an experimental approach

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