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Nepali leads leukemia discovery

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

A Nepali PhD student Sewa Rijal is among a team of researchers from Monash University who has recently discovered a gene in leukemia patients that causes resistance to chemotherapy. sewa Rijal

The discovery of the INPP4B gene was based entirely on Rijal’s PhD thesis, which she did under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Wei.

Rijal did her A levels in Budhanilkantha School before completing a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Science in Monash University, Melbourne, where she eventually pursued her PhD in Medicine.

The discovery of the INPP4B gene was published in the prestigious medical journal ‘Blood’. According to Rijal, the gene can be a new indicator of leukemia and might guide scientists to discover future treatment options other than chemotherapy.

Nepali Times’ Sahina Shrestha talked to Rijal to find out more:

Nepali Times (NT): How did you feel when the leukemia gene was discovered?

Sewa Rijal: This finding was not something that was discovered overnight, it took five years of hard work from the entire research team at Monash.

The feeling that you have contributed to knowledge in the field of cancer such as leukemia (which is incurable in most cases) gives one a lot of satisfaction.

NT: How does the discovery of the protein help the leukemia patients?

Sewa Rijal: This protein can be a novel biomarker of the disease, guide treatment options and help avoid the unnecessary toxicity that comes with chemotherapy.

NT: Can you tell us about your current work?

Sewa Rijal: Our current work is focused on understanding how this protein works to cause resistance to chemotherapy. If we understand this, we can target the protein and the pathway that it involves to cause pathogenesis, which can help treat acute myeloid leukemia more effectively.

NT: How did your interest in the area begin?

Sewa Rijal: I was always interested in cancer research as there is so much to know and discover in this field.

NT: Do you plan on coming back to Nepal?

Sewa Rijal: I do plan to return to Nepal when I have enough experience to initiate cancer research in the country.

NT: How do you plan on establishing a cancer research facility in Nepal, where biomedical research is still in its infant stages?

Sewa Rijal: This is several years down the track. To start off, I would like to establish a research center where we can have access to cancer tissue samples from hospitals around the valley and scientific equipments to carry out the research.

I think this will require international collaboration with a university that is well-known for cancer research such as Monash University.

NT: What are the major challenges you foresee?

Sewa Rijal: The main challenge would be funding. Hopefully the government can contribute to medical research as in most developed countries. We can also get funding from international sources and charity organisations.

NT: Who do you attribute your success to?

Sewa Rijal: My parents Rajendra Rijal and Prava Rijal, they have always encouraged me to pursue higher education.

NT: Other than leukemia patients, who do you hope this discovery will impact?

Sewa Rijal: I would like my story to be an inspiration to girls in Nepal to pursue higher education and lead the way.

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