Medicine & Dentistry-Biochemistry
University of Alberta
Summary of research:
Early-onset hereditary breast and ovarian cancers are largely caused by mutations in the gene BRCA1. Our lab works to understand how normal BRCA1 functions to protect our cells from damage that can lead to tumour formation, and why specific mutations in BRCA1 cause cancer. We have focused our attention on one part of the BRCA1 protein, the BRCT domain (BRCA1 C-terminal) which is often mutated in the most aggressive tumours. This part of BRCA1 contacts other proteins when cells sense various kinds of toxic chemicals or radiation that can damage DNA. These contacts allow the formation of a network of proteins around the site of damage in the DNA that repair the damage. If the DNA is not repaired, as happens in cases where BRCA1 has been mutated, then mutations can develop that lead to cancer. Our work helping us better understand the processes that have evolved in our cells that protect most cells against the development of breast and ovarian cancers. Such knowledge is critical to efforts to understand what environmental toxins are likely to be most the most dangerous carcinogens. Moreover, we hope to be able to build on this knowledge to begin to develop new therapies for breast and ovarian cancers with improved efficacies and reduced side effects that specifically target BRCA1 and its associated proteins.