Dr Maria Tresini aims to study an innovative way to switch off DNA repair mechanisms in cancer cells so that they can't fix their damaged DNA, causing them to die.
Dr Maria Tresini is a senior researcher in the group of Professor Wim Vermeulen at the Erasmus MC in Rotterdam. Her lab's research tries to unravel mechanisms of DNA repair, including its implications in cancer.
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 it 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 defense 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.