Tales from... Dr Reem Saleh

I believe that every day is a new opportunity for me to learn something new about science and medical research.

Dr. Reem Saleh

I was born and raised in the Middle East and moved to Australia when I was 15 years old.  When I was a kid, getting into Medical School was my ultimate dream. However, I could not make it after completing my VCE with a score of 93.2%. Then I decided to get into another related medical field, which was Biomedical Science (BSs). Research can be challenging and stressful; however, it is an exciting experience, a great learning opportunity and rewarding. Throughout my research experience, I have gained strong skills at both the personal and technical levels and I believe that every day is a new opportunity for me to learn something new about science and medical research.

I completed my BSc degree in Biomedical Science in December 2009 at the University of Melbourne, Australia. I received my Master of Science with Distinction in August 2012 from the University of Melbourne with a research component in Inflammation and joint pain. Then, I worked as a Research Assistant (August 2012- December 2012) at the Arthritis and Inflammation Research Centre, Hamilton Laboratory, Department of Medicine, The University of Melbourne.  In February 2013, I was awarded a PhD scholarship, The Australian Postgraduate Award. I obtained my PhD in February 2017 and I started my 1st Postdoc in March 2017 in the same lab to work on identifying novel pain mechanisms by which immune cells and cytokines/chemokines mediate arthritic pain using in vitro models and animal arthritis models. After spending approximately seven years in rheumatology, I decided to change my research field and move into cancer immunology. I wanted to explore a new field of medical research, cancer research, and acquire different set of techniques and skills, as well exploring the opportunity of doing research outside Australia. Additionally, cancer remains a major medical and economic burden despite the advancement in screening and treatments. Approximately more than 12 millions of people die of cancer each year. Hence, I was passionate to be involved in cancer research to understand more about the disease and find out promising therapeutic strategies to help patients and improve their quality of lives. Since I moved into cancer research, my passion and interest in cancer translational research was growing a year-by-year, hoping to elucidate the molecular and cellular mechanisms, which drive tumour suppression or resistance against immunotherapies.

In January 2019, I moved to Qatar where I joined the Cancer Research Centre at Qatar Biomedical Research Institute as a Postdoctoral Researcher. It was not a difficult decision for me to move to Qatar for a job opportunity since I was born and raised in a neighbouring country that has a similar life style and culture, which is Saudi Arabia. However, my only worry was the quality of research and the lab environment in Qatar, given that I have not worked in other labs apart from Australia. I spent two years working there and it was a lovely experience. My work place had excellent facilities and resources to carryout medical research, and was a multicultural environment, and English was the main communication language.

My research in Qatar was focused on tumour immunology and inhibitory immune checkpoints. Cancer immunotherapies, such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, have made a breakthrough in the treatment of various cancer types; however, the efficacy of these immunotherapies is limited by different mechanisms, including the emergence of compensatory inhibitory mechanisms, which negatively influence the anti-tumour immune response leading to acquired resistance. Some of my work also had the potential of stratifying patient groups who may benefit from immune checkpoint inhibitors alone or in combination with targeted therapies to enhance tumour sensitivity to treatment and improve clinical outcomes in cancer patients.

Working in Qatar for two years was an excellent and rewarding experience, given the number of publications I made (23 research articles and review papers). However, it was difficult to stay there for a long time without my family who lives in Melbourne. Therefore, I decided to come back to Melbourne early this year.

In Feb 2021, I joined Prof. Ygal Haupt Laboratory as a postdoctoral researcher to work on research projects related to head and neck cancer and prostate cancer. It is a privilege to work under the supervision of Prof. Haupt, one of the key leaders and contributors in p53 biology, mechanisms of tumour suppression and prostate cancer research. It is also a privilege to work at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre (PMCC) with dedicated scientists, clinicians and leading core facilities that all exemplify innovation and excellence. I believe that working at the PMCC increases the potential for significant outputs from the research projects that I am currently working on, as I have access to one of the advanced and leading cancer research institutes in Australia with world-class facilities and a variety of high expertise. Additionally, the strong qualities of my mentors and others working at PMCC will help me to rapidly transition into an independent researcher in cancer biology.

My current research goals are focused on testing the efficacy of new targeted therapies for head and neck cancer and understanding the impact of p53 mutation status on the progression of prostate cancer and the underlying immunological mechanisms. P53 is one of the key tumour suppressor proteins, which facilitate the primary natural defence mechanisms against cancer. Mutations in TP53 (gene encoding p53) leading to either loss of expression (meaning loss of function) or aberrant increased expression (meaning gain of oncogenic function) have been evident in more than 50% of human cancers, and closely associated with disease progression and metastasis, such as metastatic prostate cancer. Additionally, the tumour suppressive activity of wild-type and mutant p53 in cancer can be negatively regulated by proteins named MDM2 and MDM4. Therefore, I am interested to examine the impact of targeting MDM2 and MDM4 on p53 activity and tumour progression, anticipating that MDM2 and MDM4 targeting has therapeutic benefits (Figure).

My long-term career goals involve becoming an independent researcher and developing a comprehensive understanding of mechanisms that control key molecular pathways and contribute to oncogenesis and tumour suppression.

Figure legend: The role of p53 signaling and its regulation in cancer. (1) Wild-type (wt) p53 and mutant p53 have opposing roles in cancer with one playing a tumour suppressive role, while the other one promotes tumorigenesis. (2) In cancer, the activity of wt p53 is aberrantly regulated by MDM2 and MDM4, leading to tumour progression. Therefore, (3) the application of small molecule inhibitors targeting MDM2 and MDM4 could be beneficial in restoring wt p53 function and tumour suppression. Further investigations are required to address whether targeting these molecules is beneficial in cancer cases with mutant p53.

Dr Reem Saleh is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Haupt laboratory, Tumour Suppression and Cancer Sex Disparity Lab within the Peter Mac Research Faculty. Her expertise includes cancer immunology, experimental mouse models, and epigenetics. She can be contacted by email at [email protected].

Dr Reem Saleh can be contacted by:

Google scholar: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=umcEYY8AAAAJ&hl=en

Publon: https://publons.com/researcher/4067753/reem-saleh/

LinkedIn: dr-reem-saleh-868b56155

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