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How do cancer cells override self-destruct instructions?

  • Researcher: Professor Lucia Altucci
  • Institution: Seonda Universita di Napoli, Italy
  • Award Amount: £152,000 for 3 years from 1st June 2015
  • Cancer Type: General Cancer Research
How do cancer cells override self-destruct instructions?
Professor Lucia Altucci is trying to understand how cells override self-destruct instructions when treated with cancer drugs and then determine if the process can be reversed. The human genome is the complete assembly of DNA that makes each individual unique. Our DNA holds the instructions for building the proteins that then carry out a variety of functions in a cell. The epigenome is made up of chemical modifications and proteins packed with DNA (genome) and control actions such as turning genes on or off or control the production of proteins etc. Professor Lucia Altucci explains “When epigenomic changes occur on DNA they alter its function, but they don’t change the actual DNA sequence. Like blacking out sections of text in a book, the instructions are all still there underneath but if you bake a cake with half the instructions missing, you will not make a correct cake.  These epigenetic changes often happen incorrectly or become deregulated in cancers and the resulting change in gene activity drives the cell to grow and divide in an uncontrolled manner, forming a tumour.  The changes can also cause cells to behave differently, for example by overriding self-destruct instructions" She continues “With my Worldwide Cancer Research grant I aim to fully understand one way that cells avoid self-destruction, involving epigenetic changes on a gene called RIP1.  I will study both solid and blood cancers then, if time permits, I will look for drugs that are able to stop these epigenetic changes occurring.  A successful drug would cause cells to once again self-destruct and die when treated with cancer drugs.  Some epigenetic changes in cancer cells have already been identified and are being exploited as tools and treatments to identify and specifically kill cancer cells.  I therefore believe this work has great potential to be of clinical benefit in the future."
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