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MD Anderson Wins $3.5M DoD Grant for DNA Replication Studies

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has won a $3.5 million award from the US Department of Defense that it will use to study genes and biomarkers related to DNA replication response and how it can be used to fight breast cancer.

MD Anderson's Shiaw-Yih Lin, an associate professor in the department of systems biology, will use The Era of Hope Scholar Award from DoD to research nearly 100 genes related to DNA replication stress response (RSR), which is part of the DNA damage response. RSR detects defects in dividing cells and either repairs or destroys them or deprives them of their ability to replicate.

"When cells begin to proliferate very rapidly due to activation of cancer-causing genes or the loss of tumor-suppressor genes, the replication stress response detects that change and blocks these cells from replicating," Lin said in a statement. "Genetic defects or flawed proteins in the replication stress response allow precancerous or cancerous cells to bypass this important blockade."

There currently aren't any biomarkers for early detection of these defects, Lin noted. "We believe we can identify biomarkers that will detect premalignant cells, allowing us to target those cells before they become fully malignant and providing an avenue for preventing breast cancer as well as treating existing disease."

The Lin-led group aims to characterize the genes involved in the RSR pathway, identify the genetic signature and proteins associated with defective RSR, identify drugs that target the defects, and develop nanoparticles that could be used for diagnostic imaging, prevention, and treatment of breast cancer.

Out of the more than 100 genes that are involved in RSR, the MD Anderson team hopes to develop about five top candidates.

"One of the key points in the Era of Hope Scholar Award is to select outstanding scientists who are willing to do high-risk, high-yield studies in addition to the incremental science we do that moves us ahead but moves us ahead slowly," Gordon Mills, chair of the MD Anderson department of Systems Biology, said in the statement. "These high-risk, high-yield projects are extremely difficult to fund by conventional mechanisms," Mills added.

Mills said that Lin's research may make it possible to "help a whole new set of breast cancer patients who do not benefit from current therapies."

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