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Dr Jacki Heraud-Farlow

Research Officer, Cancer & RNA biology Laboratory

Investigating new targets to treat rare childhood autoinflammatory disease

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The Problem

Aicardi-Goutières Syndrome (AGS) is a rare autoinflammatory disease which starts in early childhood. The disease causes profound degeneration in the brain and a loss of motor and communication skills. There are currently no targeted therapies available. A particular characteristic of AGS is the inappropriate production of a powerful signalling molecule, called interferon. Essential to the ability of our immune system to respond to viruses and bacteria, interferon can be highly damaging to the body in the absence of infection.

By investigating the molecules and genes that lead to the development of AGS, we hope to find new therapies to treat this devastating disease. Understanding this rare condition can also point to new treatment opportunities that harness the immune system to treat common conditions like cancer, or to fight infection by RNA viruses (like COVID-19).

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The Project

Dr Jacki Heraud-Farlow has identified never-before-seen regulators of inflammation in mice that have been genetically modified to develop a condition that mimics AGS. These regulators represent a new treatment target that could stop the inappropriate production of interferon that is so damaging in people with this disease.

Jacki’s collaboration with a clinician at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute who treats AGS patients will allow her to collect blood samples from people with the disease. She will use these cells to generate human cell lines, enabling Jacki to further study the new regulators she has discovered and test their ability to modify the interferon response.

“If we prove successful, this would be a highly significant advance in the development of new treatments for AGS. In addition, the human cell lines generated from patient samples will provide an invaluable tool for future testing of other potential therapies,” says Jacki.

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Dr Jacki Heraud-Farlow

Jacki is an early/mid-career researcher who specialises in RNA biology. She is particularly interested in how RNA structures and modifications shape the balance between immunity to viruses and autoimmunity against our cells’ own RNA, and how this can be manipulated to develop novel therapies to treat rare and common diseases.

Originally from Melbourne, Jacki completed her PhD at the University of Vienna in a specialised RNA biology program, studying RNA regulation in neurons. She joined SVI’s Cancer and RNA biology lab, led by Professor Carl Walkley, in 2016 and is now a Team Leader within the group, studying AGS and RNA editing.