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Cancerfonden awards Sowndarya Muthukumar a postdoctoral fellowship

Photo of Sowndarya Muthukumar (left). Photo of a person handling laboratory samples with the Cancerfonden logo (right).
Cancerfonden distributed SEK 37 million to 8 researchers at Lund University in 2022. Included in this group is, Dr. Sowndarya Muthukumar (left).

Cancerfonden continues to fund the foremost cancer research in Sweden – investing in cancer research that makes a difference. Last month, Cancerfonden distributed SEK 37 million to eight researchers at Lund University whose work will contribute to defeating cancer. Included in this group of talented researchers, is postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Sowndarya Muthukumar, from the Lund Stem Cell Center.

Since the 1950s, Cancerfonden has funded the foremost cancer research in Sweden, disseminating knowledge about cancer to save lives.

This year Sowndarya Muthukumar, Ph.D., was among the two postdoctoral researchers from Lund University to be awarded a postdoctoral fellowship by Cancerfonden. Sowndarya, originally a biochemist with expertise in structural biology, joined Lund Stem Cell Center more than two years ago, as a researcher with the Bellodi Research Group.

“The Bellodi Group has great expertise in conducting translational research, research which results in direct benefits for humans. My rationale for joining was to further develop into a well-rounded scientist with expertise not just in research related to molecular biology but also in research that more directly impacts patients. Essentially bringing together the best of both research worlds,” explained Sowndarya.

According to the World Health Organization, cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 1 in 6 deaths in 2020. This means that many of us are no stranger to this large group of diseases. For Sowndarya this is no different, and while her personal experiences may have inspired her initially to enter the realm of cancer research, she has also found another common thread that has helped to guide her to where she is today – Ribonucleic acid or RNA.

RNA is a molecule that is found in all living organisms and is important to the function of our cells. For Sowndarya, she has had a long-standing interest in understanding the relationship between RNA structures and their chemical modification since the start of her scientific career. As an emerging research field, increasingly important for cancer biology, this is something Sowndarya plans to continue to investigate over the next three years, as part of her project funded by Cancerfonden.

“How cancer cells use RNA modifications still remains poorly understood. It is only now becoming a revolutionary avenue of research in molecular biology and medicine. This is in part because, we are finding that specific types of modifications can influence how cells behave and transform into cancer, which may potentially open many doors to explore and learn from,” said Sowndarya.

Sowndarya’s three-year project will focus on how prominent “cancer-promoting” genes or oncogenes, can “hijack“ RNA modifications to impact the onset of a disease and the way it progresses. This will build on her previous research done with the Bellodi Research Group. In March 2022, their most recent results were published in Nature Cell Biology where they identified new essential roles for RNA molecules in directing the malignant transformation of stem cells, with implications for understanding the development of aggressive blood cancers.

Based on these findings, and previous work from the group, Sowndarya will continue to explore how intrinsic changes in the cell’s RNA may be key for the development of blood cancers and solid tumors caused by the alteration of these oncogenes. "I hope that this project will provide completely new insight into how major oncogenes function, advancing our basic knowledge of the molecular events underlying incurable forms of cancer, which may pave the way for future therapeutic avenues aimed at developing more precise treatment for patients,” concluded Sowndarya.

Publications:

Read the full scientific article, “Pseudouridine-modified tRNA fragments repress aberrant protein synthesis and predict leukemic progression in myelodysplastic syndrome” published in Nature Cell Biology, 24 March 2022.

Learn more about how the “Pseudouridylation of tRNA-Derived Fragments Steers Translational Control in Stem Cells,” published in Cell, 17 May 2018. A summary of these findings is also available via the Faculty of Medicine's News Archive. 

Contacts:

Sowndarya Muthukumar

PhD, Postdoctoral Researcher

Division of Molecular Hematology
Department of Laboratory Medicine
Lund Stem Cell Center
BMC B12, Lund University
221 84 Lund, Sweden

Sowndarya [dot] Muthukumar [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se ()

Link to the Bellodi Research Group | RNA and Stem Cell Biology

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