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Cancer prevention and the role of caspase-2

  • Researcher: Dr Loretta Dorstyn
  • Institution: University of South Australia
  • Award Amount: £206,542 for 3 years from September 2013
  • Cancer Type: General Cancer Research
Cancer prevention and the role of caspase-2

Tumour suppressor genes, as the name suggests, are genes that act to suppress the development of tumours. They are able to control a number of functions within our cells to prevent cancer from developing. Cancer-causing genes, called oncogenes can counteract this anti-cancer effect and are often present at much higher levels in cancer cells. In order to prevent tumours, tumour suppressor genes can sometimes kill cells through a process of programmed cell suicide, called apoptosis. Apoptosis is driven by a group of molecules called caspases which act like cellular scissors, chopping up molecules and proteins. Dr Dorstyn and her team have recently shown that one of these caspases, caspase-2, has a direct role in stopping cancer development that is being driven by oncogenes. They also found that low levels of caspase-2 means that DNA damage is not being detected and repaired the way it should be, to prevent cancer from developing. The team believe that caspase-2 can act as a tumour suppressor by protecting against DNA damage. They will use their Worldwide Cancer Research grant to study whether caspase-2 works as a suppressor of tumours that are caused by oncogenes. They will also investigate genes and molecules that are affected by the absence of the caspase-2 gene. This will give us a better understanding of the role of caspase-2 in preventing cancer, and might identify possible new ways of treating the disease.

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