Dr. Bryan Day has a PhD in Medical Science from the University of Queensland and found his way into research while working with cancer patients as a nutritionist. Bryan is passionate about understanding more about brain cancer and developing therapies to make a real difference to patients’ lives.
Brain cancer therapy has not advanced significantly in the past few decades, and today’s most advanced therapies may add as little as three to six months to a terminal patient’s life. Dr Bryan Day, Senior Research Officer in the Brain Cancer Research Unit at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane is working on the premise that every cancer is different and individual therapies must be tailored for each patient.
“A magic bullet won’t work against this complex hard-to-treat disease. A combination of different therapies which are based on the molecular genetics of cancer will be key.”
- Bryan Day
Bryan’s path to brain cancer researcher didn’t follow the traditional route. Instead he began his career as a dietician and nutritionist working with brain cancer patients in the Wesley Hospital in Brisbane. “I felt really terrible about the suffering they were going through, and as I started to learn more about brain cancer I decided that the focus of my career should change to medical research.”
Today Bryan’s work at QIMR involves understanding the biology of brain cancer. In particular, he is looking at ‘Eph’ receptors and how they promote glioma growth. “Eph receptors are proteins expressed on the surface of cells,” explains Bryan, “we find Eph receptors on stem-like cells during early development, but these are ‘switched off’ and not found in normal adult tissue. Recently, it’s been shown Eph receptors are re-expressed in a number of different cancers, including brain cancer.”
One particular receptor in the Eph family —EphA3—is found highly expressed in gliomas and, in particular, in the mesenchymal subtype of Glioblastoma Multiforme. Because EphA3 is only found in very low levels in normal adult tissue, it is an ideal tumour specific target for therapy. Bryan’s research suggests that EphA3-targeted therapy may eliminate the tumour-initiating cells, and stop the tumour at its source.
It was while reading about the EphA3 receptor in breast cancer that Bryan had his ‘a-ha! moment’—that sudden flash of insight that can change the course of a research career. Bryan explains, “I happened upon an obscure research paper in breast cancer that showed that EPHA3 regulates a particular protein that creates a niche for stem cells. For me it was a huge moment. Those sorts of moments are wonderful … and that particular group of scientists didn’t know their work would have such a big impact on me, but it has.” Bryan has leveraged the knowledge he gained from the field of breast cancer to change the direction of his brain cancer research since. “All those pieces of knowledge add up to something bigger, and when the pieces of the puzzle come together, well, it can be quite satisfying.”
The QIMR Brain Cancer Research Unit is part of the Brain Cancer Discovery Collaborative (BCDC), which is supported by Cure Brain Cancer Foundation and brings together a diverse group of researchers from across Australia. Rather than working as single competing entities, the research groups work as a team to generate ideas, data and share resources with the primary aim of discovering new drug candidates for treating brain cancer faster.
Together with the BCDC, Bryan credits success to the QIMR brain tumour bank developed in partnership with patients, clinicians and neurosurgeons at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. The bank has collected over 150 brain tumour specimens, and access to this tissue has enabled Bryan to create human brain cancer cell cultures that facilitate his study of Eph receptors.
The brain tumour bank has also given Bryan the opportunity to meet patients, “This provides a human element to what we do. We’re not just isolated in the lab working with lab animals. We are speaking to patients about how this terrible disease affects them and their families.
"I’m quite passionate about doing translational work and getting my findings to clinical trial so we can make a difference to patients.”
- Bryan Day
“Brain cancer is a nasty beast,” says Bryan, “The more we find out about it the more we realise how complex it is. Sometimes that is daunting. But, in essence, that is what drives us. The cure isn’t going to be easy or straightforward. It will require lots of effort. But that’s what gets me into the lab every day.”