About Dr Joshua McCarroll
Few young researchers have as much motivation to cure cancer as passionately as Dr Joshua McCarroll, project leader in the Tumour Biology and Targeting Program at the Children's Cancer Institute and the Australian Centre for Nano Medicine.
As a young child, Joshua was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo two years of chemotherapy and radiation. “The treatment back then was pretty horrible,” he says. “That’s one reason part of my research aims to reduce the toxic side effects of chemotherapy by allowing doctors to use lower concentrations.”
Joshua completed his PhD in 2005 at UNSW and joined the University of Massachusetts Medical School, USA for post-doctoral studies (2005-07). During this time, he gained experience in using cutting-edge technologies to develop RNA interference (RNAi) agents and nanotechnology as therapeutics to treat human disease.
Since joining Children's Cancer Institute in 2007, the focus of Joshua's research has been to develop therapies which increase the efficiency of chemotherapy drugs whilst reducing toxic side-effects to normal cells.
Joshua's research has involved identifying and targeting genes that are involved in regulating resistance to chemotherapy drugs and in promoting tumour growth in a number of cancers including lung, brain, pancreatic and childhood neuroblastoma.
Once identified, these genes are targeted with nanoparticles that can deliver siRNA (small pieces of genetic material that can silence the expression of target genes) and deliver these systemically to ‘silence’ the genes promoting resistance to chemotherapy in tumour cells. It is hoped that these studies will eventually be translated into the clinic and significantly increase sensitivity of these otherwise drug resistant tumours to chemotherapy.
Joshua hopes that by targeting cancer cells in this way as well as using chemotherapy drugs, will in turn, make the cancer cells more sensitive to the chemotherapy as well as reduce their toxic side effects on normal cells.
Current chemotherapy drugs are unable to clearly differentiate between cancerous and normal tissues, which often results in the well-known toxic side effects. Another problem with the drugs is that widespread distribution into non-targeted organs and rapid elimination usually means the patient needs larger quantities of the drugs, which makes the toxicity worse.
“So reducing toxicity and improving tumour targeting has the potential to make a huge difference,” says Joshua.