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Switching off DNA repair in cancer cells

  • Researcher: Dr Maria Tresini
  • Institution: Erasmus University Medical Centre, Rotterdam, Netherlands
  • Award Amount: £249,902 for 3 years from 1st April 2018
  • Cancer Type: General Cancer Research
Switching off DNA repair in cancer cells
Dr Maria Tresini is using funding from Worldwide Cancer Research to study an innovative way to switch DNA repair mechanisms off in cancer cells so that they can’t fix their damaged DNA causing them to die. Dr Tresini’s lab recently discovered a whole new molecular mechanism that cells have in their repertoire for DNA repair and now want to understand exactly how this mechanism works to see if can be exploited for cancer therapy.

The DNA in your cells is subjected all the time to damage that can lead to genetic mutations that cause cancer. In fact, research suggests that the DNA in each of your cells becomes damaged 20,000 times a day. It’s a good thing that our cells come equipped with multiple defence mechanisms that detect damaged DNA and repair it. But these repair mechanisms are also responsible for keeping cancer cells alive when they suffer DNA damage, including damage caused by chemotherapeutic drugs.

Dr Tresini is focusing on something called ‘R-loops’ - molecular structures that occur naturally when DNA becomes damaged. These R-loops are intriguing because they activate the DNA repair process in cells but at the same time make the DNA molecule unstable and more susceptible to damage. By understanding exactly how R-loops activate DNA repair it will be possible to identify ways to block the process with drugs. This could lead to a build-up of DNA damage in cancer cells that ultimately causes the cell to die.
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