Associate Professor Anneke Blackburn

BSC (Hons) (UNSW), PhD

Dr Anneke Blackburn is a group leader at the John Curtin School of Medical Research, The Australian National University, in Canberra. She completed her PhD in Medical Sciences at JCSMR in 1996, gained postdoctoral training in the Molecular Genetics Group at JCSMR, and in 1999 moved into breast cancer genetics research at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA in the lab of Prof D. Joseph Jerry.  This work lead to the identification of genetic factors involved in breast cancer susceptibility in mice.  Upon return to JCSMR in 2002, with the support of a NHMRC Howard Florey Centenary Fellowship and R.D. Wright Career Development Award, Dr Blackburn worked to translate these findings to patient populations through familiar cancer consortia based in Australia, with the aim of identifying those people most at risk of developing cancer.  Concurrently, her research team is examining novel treatments targeting cancer metabolism, particularly dichloroacetate, with the aim of improving the outcomes of cancer patients.

Research interests

Treatment and prevention of cancer by targeting cancer cell metabolism with dichloroacetate. Dichloroacetate (DCA), an inhibitor of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase, is an old drug that has been used in the treatment of rare metabolic disorders that result in very high levels of lactic acid in the blood.  Cancer cells are metabolically quite different to normal cells, and also produce large amounts of lactic acid. DCA has recently been shown to be able to inhibit the growth of several types of cancer cells. We are examining the ability of DCA to inhibit growth of breast cancer cells in vitro and in vivo in animal models.  We are also examining the ability of DCA to work in combination with and enhance the effectiveness of other anti-cancer treatments.  As DCA is a relatively non-toxic drug, we are also investigating if DCA has the ability to prevent the development of cancer in the p53 deficient mouse model, as this may offer individuals highly susceptible to breast cancer an alternative to radical preventive surgery.

Genetic factors involved in breast cancer susceptibility in mice and humans. There remain to be discovered many genetic factors that influence an individual ’s risk of developing cancer.  We are using p53 deficient mice, a model of the multiple tumour syndrome Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, and different strains of inbred mice to identify new factors involved in breast cancer susceptibility.  In collaboration with the Kathleen Cunningham consortium for research in familial breast cancer ( we examine the influence of these factors in breast cancer risk in human populations.