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Searching for ways to diagnose cancer early

  • Researcher: Professor Andrés Aguilera
  • Institution: University of Seville, Spain
  • Award Amount: £168,000 for 3 years from January 2015
  • Cancer Type: General Cancer Research
Searching for ways to diagnose cancer early
In this project Professor Aguilera is studying whether special DNA–like molecules called R-loops could be a marker of tumour cells, and might one day be a new diagnostic tool for cancer. R-loop molecules help control the switching on and off of genes in cells, and have also recently been implicated in molecular mechanisms of disease, including neurodegenerative disorders and cancer. If R-loops are able to accumulate in cells, they become a major source of a type of DNA damage called ‘replication stress’, which is commonly found in cancer cells. Professor Aguilera and his team have developed brand new tools and techniques to study exactly how R-loops cause replication stress in cancer, and which genes R-loops regulate. Over the next three years they will use these tools to understand exactly how R-loops work, and which other proteins and molecules interact with R-loops in the cell. But that’s not all. “Our previous results suggest that once certain genes which protect against cancer are inactivated; R-loops accumulate and start causing replication stress and DNA damage- potentially leading to cancer,” says Professor Aguilera. “So now we want to use this information to determine if R-loops might be useful as an early-diagnostic marker for cancer.” "Now that I have this Worldwide Cancer Research funding, it means we can undertake massive lab-based screening approaches to investigate this, as well as to better understand the dynamics and physiological relevance of R-loops in tumour cells."
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