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Switching off DNA repair in cancer cells

Researcher
Dr Maria Tresini
Project period
Jun 2018 - Jun 2021
Country
Research Institute
Erasmus MC
Cancer types
General cancer research
Dr Maria Tresini

Aim of the research

Dr Maria Tresini aims 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.

Meet the scientist

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.

More about the research project

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.