Dr Huarte studies how a certain type of molecule can affect treatment-resistant bowel cancer. Learning more about how this molecule functions could open up new ways of treating bowel cancer.
Dr Huarte studied music at the conservatory, particularly enjoying songs from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. She also plays the violin and loves travelling, sushi and the writer Kurt Vonnegut. She obtained her PhD in molecular biology and is a mum to two young kids.
Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide. While survival rates have made an impressive jump in the last 40 years, only slightly more than half of all patients survive for 10 years or longer after their diagnosis. This is in part because bowel cancer often becomes resistant to treatments and there is an urgent need for new ways to tackle this resistance.
Dr Huarte and her team are trying to better understand the behaviour of tumour cells by studying a type of molecule called “long non-coding RNA” (lncRNA). lncRNA can interact with other molecules inside the cell and influence how they behave. In cancer cells, this can contribute to the development of treatment resistance.
Normal cells self-destruct when put under enormous stress, but some cancer cells lose this ability. Re-establishing this ability to self-destruct in cancer cells could be a way to stop cancer from growing. It is thought that lncRNAs are involved in this process, but their role is not very well understood.
Dr Huarte now wants to study the role lncRNAs play in “stressed” cells to better understand the behaviour of cancer cells. These insights could lead to the identification of new ways to develop targeted cancer therapies.
The discovery is at the heart of research, and the reason why we are excited about what we do every day in the lab.