Helen specialises in Nanotheragnostics and gene modulating therapeutics

Brain cancer kills more children in Australia than any other disease. Moreover, the children that do survive are frequently left with debilitating side effects that seriously impact their quality of life. Helen's research is focused on the development of more effective, less toxic nanoparticle led therapeutics. Gene dysregulation is a pathological driver of cancer formation, and it is the ability to target these dysregulated genes therapeutically that is the key to Helen's research. Her current work is focused on the design and characterisation of ultrasmall superparamagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles as a theragnostic probe for delivery of short interference RNA (siRNA). Furthermore, the superparamagnetic property and size of iron oxide nanoparticles allows for their potential use as an alternative contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Gadolinium is currently used in MRI analysis of patients. However, recent studies have identified significant kidney-related side effects and toxic accumulation in the brain. Therefore, the identification of an alternative contrast agent to gadolinium, is highly sought after for brain cancer patients.

Dr Helen Forgham completed her PhD in May 2020 at the Children's Cancer Institute (CCI), Sydney. Her PhD was on characterising polymer nanoparticles for delivery of siRNA to medulloblastoma. In June 2020, Helen was awarded early-career research (ECR) seed grant funding from the Centre for Oncology Education & Research Training (CONCERT) for a Chief Investigator role, performing innovative research leading to the identification of medulloblastoma specific micro-RNA biomarkers, in a project designed to take important early steps towards the development of a rapid, simple test to be used to precisely correlate chemotherapy treatment response in children suffering from medulloblastoma. In July 2021, Helen joined the Davis/Qiao groups at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN), where she is a full-time researcher focusing on the design and characterisation of nanotheragnostics for the treatment of childhood brain cancers.

Industry

Helen is currently not involved with industry. However, she has previously played an active role as a committee member for The Industry Partners (IPP) Program, set up by the CBNS network and chaired by Professor Kris Thurecht at AIBN. The emphasis of the IPP was to identify and/or creates opportunities to engage researchers from across the country with industry and commercial stakeholders.

Collaborations

​Since arriving in July, Helen has been instrumental in establishing two collaborations for the Davis/Qiao groups. The first is with Professor Brian Day of QIMR, whose group are leading the field in developing patient derived children's brain cancer cell lines and patient derived orthotopic children's brain cancer mouse models for research. The second is with Dr Guillermo Gomez at the University of South Australia, whose work with patient derived brain cancer organoids gives the group access to a highly relevant 3D in vitro test platform with which to test our nanotheragnostics. Helen has previously collaborated on her previous ECR seed grant funded research with, Professor Justin Gooding, Associate Professor and clinical oncologist, David Zeigler, Associate Professor Joshua McCarroll, and Associate Professor Mark Cowley at the University of New South Wales.

Funding

​In June 2020, Helen was awarded ECR seed grant funding from the Centre for Oncology Education & Research Training (CONCERT) for a Chief Investigator role, performing innovative research leading to the identification of medulloblastoma specific micro-RNA biomarkers, in a project designed to take important early steps towards the development of a rapid, simple test to be used to precisely correlate chemotherapy treatment response in children suffering from medulloblastoma.

Key Publications

​Janjua TI, Ahmed-Cox A, Meka AK, Mansfeld FM, Forgham H et al., Facile synthesis of lactoferrin conjugated ultra-small large pore silica nanoparticles for the treatment of glioblastoma. Nanoscale (2021).

Tjandra KC, McCarthy N, Yang S, Laos AJ, Sharbeen G, Phillips PA, Forgham H et al., Identification of novel medulloblastoma cell-targeting peptides for use in selective chemotherapy drug delivery. J Med Chem (2020). 

Somers K, Evans K, Cheung L, Karsa M, Pritchard T, Kosciolek A, Bongers A, El-Ayoubi A, Forgham H et al., Effective targeting of NAMPT in patient-derived xenograft models of high-risk paediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Leukemia (2019).  

Somers K, Wen VW, Middlemiss SMC, Osborne B, Forgham H et al., A novel small molecule that kills a subset of MLL-rearranged leukemia cells by inducing mitochondrial dysfunction. Oncogene (2019).  Carr-Wilkinson J, Prathalingam N, Pal D, Moad M, Lee N, Sundaresh A, Forgham H et al., Differentiation of human embryonic stem cells to sympathetic neurons: A potential model for understanding neuroblastoma pathogenesis. Stem Cells Int (2018).