Congratulations Matt Munro on finishing your PhD!

Matt looks into the camera. He has blue gloves on and holds a pipette in one hand and a tube in the other.

GMRI PhD student Matt Munro has recently completed his PhD at Victoria University of Wellington, and we welcome him back to the team as a post-doctoral research fellow.

We warmly congratulate team member Matt Munro on completing his PhD study. Matt began with the GMRI as a research assistant in 2016. In 2017, he began his PhD study working alongside our research team. Matt will continue with us as a post-doctoral research fellow. His next project investigates a possible cause of colon cancer, under the supervision of our Chief Scientist Dr Sean Hall.

Pushing the boundaries of PhD research

Matt’s PhD thesis investigated the role of cancer stem cells and the renin-angiotensin system in colon cancer. His thesis is titled Characterisation of Cancer Stem Cells and the Renin-angiotensin System in Colon Adenocarcinoma.

The examiners of Matt’s thesis commented that ‘the scope of the thesis pushed the boundaries of a PhD thesis’, and that his work ‘represents a substantial, original and outstanding contribution to the field.’

Matt’s findings suggest colon cancer may respond to our treatment 

Matt found that components of the renin-angiotensin system are present on colon cancer stem cells. He tested medications that block the renin-angiotensin system on cells grown from colon cancers. His results showed that these medications caused a reduction in both cancer stem cell markers and cancer cell metabolism.

These oral medications included beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, and angiotensin receptor blockers. All of these off-patent, low-cost medications are commonly used for treating high blood pressure.

Where you can read the results of Matt’s research

Matt has published his research papers arising from his PhD work in international journals, two of them in PLoS ONE. He is currently preparing two other papers for publication. The published papers are:

Come and hear Matt’s PhD findings

Matt will present his findings at The Wellington Club in June (details below). Our 2020/2021 summer students will also present the results from their research.

When: 4.30pm 21 June
Where: The Wellington Club

Please contact Cindy Naresh (details below) if you would like to join us.

Phone: 04 282 0366      

Matt’s next research project investigates the cause of colon cancer

Matt’s next project will investigate the role of gut bacteria and the ATF6 gene in the development of colon cancer. Through this research, he hopes to find out more about whether bacteroides fragilis (a common gut bacteria) causes cancer-related DNA mutations in normal colon cells. He’ll also investigate whether the ATF6 gene is involved in this process. To test this, Matt will replicate part of a human colon using a human organoid system — a microscopic human colon that he’ll develop in the GMRI laboratory.

Certain bacteria may play a part in causing colon cancer, such as bacteroides fragilis. These bacteria produce toxins that are thought to be carcinogenic and can degrade the protective mucus layer in the gut. They can outcompete good bacteria, and this change is thought to be partly due to diet.

The ATF6 gene helps cells respond to stress caused by improperly formed (misfolded) proteins. However, this gene also increases inflammation. Overactive ATF6 and inflammation have both been associated with colon cancer, although AFT6-associated cancer seems to depend on harmful bacteria being present.

Many thanks to everyone who supported Matt in his projects!

All of us at the GMRI, including Matt, are very grateful for the generous support we’ve had for his projects. Matt received a three-year scholarship from New Zealand Community Trust and generous support from The Lloyd Morrison Trust.

Matt acknowledges and thanks his supervisors for their support: Dr Lifeng Peng from Victoria University of Wellington, Dr Swee Tan from the GMRI, and Dr Susrutha Wickremesekera from the Wellington Regional Hospital. Matt also thanks the patients who donated their tissue samples to the GMRI tissue bank.