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Dr Pontsho Moela (2023)

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Employing institution: University of Pretoria, South Africa 

Host institution: University of Nottingham, UK

Project title: Investigating a possible interaction between MALAT1 (metastasis-associated lung adenocarcinoma transcript-1) and Retinoblastoma in cancer cells

Dr Pontsho Moela is a lecturer of Human Genetics in the department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. Her research interests are on studying the identification of novel prognostic biomarkers in breast and cervical cancers. She currently leads a research program that focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms of the RBBP6 gene in cancer development by knocking down the gene and co-treating subjects with South African plant-derived active compounds that have anticancer properties.

AREF Fellowship:

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide, and its heterogeneous nature means that tumors of the same type can differ between two patients, between cancer cells within a single tumor or between a primary and a secondary tumor. This is because of genetic variation among populations, and since most cancer regimens are trialed on western patients, African patients do not always benefit from cancer therapy the same way their non-African counterparts do. According to the 2020 fact sheet on cancer gene markers released by the Cancer Association of South Africa, there are only three breast cancer markers (BRCA1/2, CEA & CA 15-3) and two cervical cancer markers (CEA and SCC) that are clinically effective for use in South Africa, to detect these cancers and monitor drug response. As such, Dr Moela wants to identify more cancer markers that are specific to African cancer patients.

She will use her fellowship to determine a possible interaction between the MALAT-1 long non-coding transcript and the RBBP6 gene in a cancer cell line model using single-molecule RNA fluorescence in situ hybridization (smRNA FISH) and immunofluorescence (IF) techniques. Both the MALAT-1 transcript and RBBP6 associate with cancer progression and therefore understanding their mechanism of action is necessary in the identification of novel biomarkers for targeted anticancer therapies.

My enhanced capacity in leadership, grant writing and conducting trials are exactly what I need to propel my research career and contribute to societal transformation

Dr Moela’s placement is the University of Nottingham, UK where she will be mentored by Professor David Bates. She will acquire skills on how to detect RNA-protein interactions in cellular processes during cancer progression.