Anna Aakula's dissertation shows the relevance of miRNAs to prostate cancer proliferation

MicroRNAs are small, non-coding RNA molecules discovered only in the early 1990s. Since then, miRNAs have been found to be important and well conserved regulators of gene expression. Aberrant microRNA expression is known or suspected to be implicated in many different disease states, especially in different types of cancer.

The main aim of M.Sc. Anna Aakula’s thesis entitled “Functional discovery of microRNAs and their targets in prostate and breast cancer: impact on hormonal regulation and cell proliferation” was to get a comprehensive picture of the miRNAs that regulate genes important for prostate cancer proliferation. Her doctoral dissertation will be publically examined today, 21 June, with the permission of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Helsinki.

Anna Aakula graduated from the Åbo Akademi in 2008 having biosciences as her major subject. Her thesis supervisors are Professor Olli Kallioniemi and Senior Researcher Päivi Östling and she has worked in Kallioniemi’s group both in VTT, University of Turku and at FIMM.

Anna’s thesis consists of three publications and one manuscript. During the thesis project she has studied the effect of more than 1100 miRNA molecules using high-throughput phenotypic screens. She was able to identify a set of miRNAs that regulate several aberrantly expressed genes important for the prognosis of prostate cancer. Since androgen receptor gene is the most important driver of prostate cancer, miRNAs regulating the expression of this gene were of special interest to Anna. She found 13 miRNA that regulated androgen receptor expression, mainly by targeting an extended 3’ untranslated region of the gene. Further studies in breast cancer cells showed that one of these miRNA, miR-135b downregulated also the estrogen receptor expression.

– Prostate and breast cancer are the most common cancer types in Finland. Many of the miRNAs identified in this thesis work, including miR-135b, could be considered as targets for therapy or as therapy in the future, Anna concludes.

The public examination of Anna Aakula’s doctoral dissertation will take place on 21 June 2016 at 12:00 in Päärakennus, Hall 2, Fabianinkatu 33. Professor Charlotte Bevan (Imperial College, London) will serve as the opponent and Professor Olli Kallioniemi as the custos.