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Personal profile

Biography

Wai-Leng Lee started her research on the discovery of novel anticancer activities of plant-based therapeutic agents when she was a post-doctoral research fellow in Academia Sinica, Taiwan. After joining Monash in 2013, she has won several grants that support her research on the potential of extracellular vesicles as chemoresistance markers for cancer management. Wai-Leng is now a senior lecturer, teaching biology, medical cell biology, and molecular biology & biotechnology at the School of Science, Monash University Malaysia. To date, she has published more than 30 research articles and book chapters with around 500 citations. Wai-Leng reviews journal papers for MDPI (Cells, Cancers), and Frontiers (Pharmacology). In collaboration with the spectroscopic expert from Monash University Australia, oncologists from the University of Malaya and industry, her invention “Non-invasive urine test for detection and diagnosis of prostate cancer” won a silver medal in the Invention and Design competition at the 31st International Invention, Innovation & Technology Exhibition, Malaysia (ITEX’20) 2020.

Research interests

Communication is essential for cells. One of the possible ways to communicate with neighboring or distant cells is through the secretion of extracellular vesicles (EVs). All types of cells secrete EVs. The various molecules (proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids) contained in EVs provide information about the originated cell and thus, these nanovesicles have gained the attention of many researchers because they can provide information about health and diseases including cancers.

Our research interests in EVs include their potentials as cancer markers for early detection and also for effective management of the disease.     

Development of non-invasive cancer screening method 

EVs can be found in all types of body fluids. One of our most recent studies detected the medium EVs (200–300 nm) from the urine of prostate cancer patients using Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy and determined their association with cancer progression. EVs extracted from 53 urine samples from patients suspected of prostate cancer were analyzed. The area under curve (AUC) of FTIR PCA model for prostate cancer detection in the cases with 4–20 ng/mL PSA was 0.7, while the AUC for PSA alone was 0.437, suggesting the analysis of urinary EVs described in this study may offer a novel strategy for the development of a non-invasive additional test for prostate cancer screening.

We are now exploring an economic method to capture EVs from biofluid samples and considering a diagnostic approach that involves AI technologies.   

Study of the roles of EVs in regulating drug resistance of cancers

It has been suggested that cancer cells derived EVs could mediate drug resistance. Using oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) as the cancer cell model, we investigated the role of EVs in mediating the response of cells to cisplatin treatment. Increased EV production was observed in both de novo and adaptive resistant lines compared to sensitive cells. Intriguingly, both resistant lines shared a highly similar EV protein profile including downregulation of the metal ion transporter, ATP1B3, in the EVs implicating altered drug delivery. When we inhibited EV secretion from the resistant cells, an increased drug sensitivity in cisplatin-treatment was observed suggesting that control of EV secretion could be a potential strategy to enhance the efficacy of cancer treatment.

There are several EV proteins are being studied in our laboratory. A high abundance of these proteins was observed in the EVs released from resistant cancer cells. Therefore, we hypothesize that these proteins could possibly be the potential prognostic/theranostic markers. 

On the other hand, we used farnesylthiosalicylic acid (FTS) to inhibit the activities of mutated KRAS in colon cancer cells to discover the potential link between KRAS activities and cancer-derived EVs. KRAS is a well-known oncoprotein that contributes to the malignancy of many cancers. We observed that FTS inhibits KRAS activity in SW480 cells, but promotes their EV production. Proteomic analysis suggests KRAS inhibition may trigger stress in the cells. The uptake of these EVs suppresses the growth of some cell types, but in general EVs from FTS-treated cells enhance the recipient cell survival when compared to that of untreated cells. Together our findings suggest that EVs may carry the survival messenger to mitigate the impact of KRAS inhibition in colon cancer cells.

We are currently investigating the roles of several program cell death-related EV proteins in regulating the survival of recipient cells.      

Monash teaching commitment

Blueprints for life (BIO1011)

This unit explores the fundamental processes and patterns common to all life on Earth. It examines how living organisms grow, develop diverse and complex structures, harness and utilize energy and transmit their life blueprints to the next generation. In this unit, students will progress through fundamental themes in cellular biology, biochemistry, genetics, genomics, and microbiology. They will examine contemporary issues in biological sciences and the societal impact that biology has by learning from world-class researchers and industry experts.

Medical cell biology (BTH3741)

The unit examines the pathways by which cells receive external information and process this into specific biochemical responses. The lessons begin with a survey of different mechanisms of cellular signalling and their roles in 'normal' cellular activities and overall homeostasis. A diverse set of cellular processes is studied and the normal control mechanisms are highlighted. This is followed by the investigation of the dysfunction of signalling mechanisms in several disease states. The aim is to demonstrate to students that dysfunction or inappropriate cellular signalling plays a key role in the pathogenesis of many common diseases. Methods of cell biology are introduced and incorporated into the laboratory work, which is designed to illustrate concepts of the theory.

Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BTH3752)

This unit focuses on molecular biology methodology and genomics, which underpin commercial developments in the rapidly expanding biotechnology industry. Advanced techniques for gene manipulation in prokaryotes and eukaryotes, methods for genome mapping and sequencing, and techniques for investigating gene and protein function, including mutagenesis, RNA interference, and expression profiling, will be considered. Industrial and research applications of these technologies, such as genetic manipulation of plants and animals, gene therapy, virus detection, and typing, recombinant vaccine production, and personalized medicine will be explored.

Science Internship (SCI3800)

The internship gives students the opportunity to apply their university learning to the workplace, providing them with experience in tailoring their academic-based learning to the needs of an industry-based partner, and to network with potential employers. This will prepare them for work or professional practice by integrating theoretical knowledge with practice. Students will learn about the process of applying for employment and good workplace practice. The internship will generally be over the summer break and commence in December. It can be taken any time after the completion of level two.

University Service

School of Science (SoS) Imaging Facility

The Confocal Microscope Facility in Monash School of Science houses an Olympus FluoView FV1000 laser-scanning confocal microscope that allows for high resolution, multi-channel 3-dimensional imaging of fluorescence-labeled or reflective specimens. The advantage over conventional widefield light microscopy is that the optics of the confocal microscope remove scattered light and light originating from outside the focal plane of interest, thus generating a high contrast “optical section.” Three-dimensional image reconstruction of serial optical sections as well as quantitative measurements can be performed using the microscope software. In addition, the microscope is equipped with a facility for live-cell imaging.

Services

  1. We provide training, assistance, and services in confocal imaging for researchers and students. 
  2. Services are available for researchers in Monash as well as external users.
  3. Annually organize training courses as MDP Module for HDR students. 

SoS Imaging Facility website link: https://sites.google.com/monash.edu/sos-imaging-facility/home 

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

Education/Academic qualification

Molecular and Biological Agricultural Sciences, Doctor of Philosophy , Academia Sinica

Sep 2005Jun 2011

Award Date: 15 Aug 2011

Biology, Master of Science, Universiti Sains Malaysia (University of Science Malaysia)

Jun 2001Dec 2003

Award Date: 5 Aug 2004

Botany & Biology, Bachelor of Science (Hons) , Universiti Sains Malaysia (University of Science Malaysia)

Jul 1998May 2000

Award Date: 30 Jul 2000

Research area keywords

  • phytochemicals and their bio-activities
  • Cancer Cell Biology
  • Proteomics
  • Exosomes
  • Extracellular vesicles
  • Cancer drug resistance
  • Diagnostic markers
  • Anticancer Agent

Network

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