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Research carried out by Daphne Jackson Fellow identifies cancer weak spots

Dr Frances Pearl, a Daphne Jackson Fellow 2011-2013, has analysed genetic data from 5000 cancerous tumours to identify potential new targets for cancer treatments. Read on to find out more.

The research, carried out during Frances' Fellowship, involved analysing the DNA of tumours from over 5000 cancer patients to identify 'weak spots' that could be targeted with new medicines. The team, co-led by Dr Pearl and Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani at the Institute of Cancer Research, focused on ‘DNA repair’ systems within the genetic code that normally protect the cell from uncontrolled division, but that are defective in almost all cancers.

“Knowing which DNA repair processes are defective in an individual tumour allows us to target new drugs that are only toxic to cells with a particular pattern of mutations – ie cancer cells.” said Dr Pearl. This approach, tailored to individual cancers, could help avoid the toxic side-effects commonly experienced during chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

“Using ‘big data’ analysis, our study has identified untargeted DNA repair proteins that look especially promising as the targets for new anti-cancer drugs, including the proteins ATM and CDK7.2 explains Dr Al-Lazikani.  "We hope this study will help speed up the development of new personalised cancer treatments.” 

Dr Pearl returned to research with a Daphne Jackson Fellowship sponsored by the Medical Research Council, following a 7 year break to look after her young family. Dr Katie Perry, Chief Executive of the Daphne Jackson Trust said "We are delighted that Frances has re-established her research career with the help of a Daphne Jackson Fellowship and that the research she is doing has the potential to make a big impact on developing new cancer treatments.’

The research, which involved computational analysis of large genetic datasets, is published 24th February 2015 in Nature Reviews Cancer. Title: Therapeutic opportunities within the DNA damage response

To find out more visit the University of Sussex website.

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