Dr David Adams (PhD ’01)

David Adams

An important new gene that can kill or slow down the growth of pancreatic cancer cells has been identified by a University of Sydney alumnus.

In a recent paper published by the journal Nature, Dr David Adams from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK, and colleagues report the discovery of a gene called USP9x, which is shut down in some pancreatic cancer cells, causing pancreatic tumours to become more aggressive. Figuring out how to reactivate USP9x in the tumours of pancreatic cancer patients could be a significant development in the treatment of this disease, which is responsible for one of the highest mortality rates of any type of cancer.

Dr Adams, who said the discovery highlights the importance of identifying all of the genes that play a role in cancer, was first exposed to the opportunity of a research career when working as a PhD student at the University of Sydney’s Department of Physiology. Looking back on this five-year period during the late 1990s, Dr Adams describes spending virtually every waking hour in the lab, fuelled by whatever cuisine he could find on campus. “I remember it as a time when I honed my skill at the bench and really worked out what I wanted to focus on for the rest of my career,” he says.

In 2001, Dr Adams left Sydney with a job offer from British geneticist and Director of the Sanger Institute, Allan Bradley, to set up his own lab within the prominent genetics and genomics research facility. “I have been incredibly lucky that the research that I have led has been successful and that I've been able to obtain support for my work,” says Dr Adams.

Dr Adams’s wife, Dr Louise Van Der Weydon, completed her PhD alongside him at Sydney before joining him at the Sanger Institute as a senior staff scientist. “During our PhDs, Louise and I worked together on the bench and all through our years as postdocs. Louise was also a postdoc in Allan Bradley,” says Dr Adams. “Our kids, now two and six, are also part of the family business,” he adds. “Our son has been known to blurt out words about cancer and genomes because he hears mum and dad talking about it all the time.”