Stopping cancer becoming resistant to chemotherapy
Dr Andrew Beekman is studying the interactions between the DNA and certain proteins in cancer cells. He hopes to find a way to stop cancer cells from becoming resistant to chemotherapies, and therefore a way for chemotherapy to cure more people.
Hope for the future
Chemotherapy is a common treatment for many different types of cancer. It works by recognising cancer cells which are faster growing than normal cells, and either killing them or stopping them from dividing.
Unfortunately, cancers can sometimes develop resistance to chemotherapy and the treatment stops working. Dr Andrew Beekman hopes to find new ways to reverse this resistance and enable chemotherapy to cure more people with cancer.
Meet the scientist
Dr Beekman grew up in Canberra, Australia, and coming from a sport mad country, he was also obsessed with sports. He used to play a lot of basketball and football, but now he does most of his competing at cycling and board games. He really enjoys cooking and eating and is pleased that Norwich has amazing food options for a small city – his favourite has to be Korean fried chicken. He likes to spend his time outside of the lab cycling and walking the dog on the Norfolk beaches.
Our DNA is sometimes called the ‘recipe for life’ because it has the instructions needed to tell our cells what to do and how to behave. But the DNA can’t do this all by itself. Transcription factors are very important proteins that determine how the instructions in DNA are read, just like a chef reading from a recipe book.
Cancers often take advantage of transcription factors to help them grow faster, avoid cell death, or develop resistance to treatments. Dr Andrew Beekman wants to develop a way to control transcription factors and their interactions with DNA in cancer cells, in order to stop cancers from becoming resistant to chemotherapy.
Until recently, it has proved challenging to control transcription factors. As Dr Beekman says, “proteins and DNA are large molecules and drugs are small, like a Chihuahua trying to keep apart sumo-wrestlers”. Dr Beekman has developed a new technique called ‘peptide-directed binding’ that he hopes will overcome this challenge. The team at the University of East Anglia will make small molecules called peptides that can attach to the DNA in cancer cells. These molecules will then deliver drugs that target the interactions between transcription factors and DNA, again.
Dr Beekman hopes that this new method will be faster and cheaper to roll-out than existing treatments. Being able to treat cancers that have become resistant to chemotherapy will give more, better options to many patients.
The funding from Worldwide Cancer Research will allow us to explore exciting new questions that could have transformative impact on treating chemoresistance. This funding will also allow us to train a PhD student in cancer related chemical biology, training the next generation of cancer researchers.
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