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Controlling how DNA is copied when cells divide

  • Researcher: Dr Vincenzo Costanzo
  • Institution: IFOM The FIRC Institute of Molecular Oncology Foundation
  • Award Amount: £148,634 for 3 years from January 2013
  • Cancer Type: General Cancer Research
Controlling how DNA is copied when cells divide

All the information that our cells need is carried in code in our DNA, which make up our genes. Our genes are located in long structures called chromosomes. Healthy cells grow and divide in a highly organised and tightly controlled manner. When a cell divides to produce two new cells, it first has to make a copy of its chromosomes, and give one complete set to each of the new cells. This is called DNA replication. This process is very carefully controlled to protect our DNA and ensure our cells work the way they should, but this control system is lost in cancer cells. The process of DNA replication starts from something called the replication origin. Cancer cells have many more replication origins than healthy cells, which means that they can divide much more quickly. It is not yet known how these extra replication origins are formed, but if this could be controlled it might be a potential way to kill cancer cells. Egg cells from the frog, Xenopus laevis, are ideal models, as replication happens often and they have a high number of replication origins. Dr Costanzo and his team identified a molecule called SSRP1, which plays a role in DNA replication. They will use their new grant to study what role SSRP1 plays in forming the replication origin. These results will give us a better understanding of how replication origin is formed and controlled in healthy cells as well as cancer cells.

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