Lead researcher and group leader in the Department of Molecular Genetics Dr. Nitika Taneja and her group are investigating the role of chromatin remodeling and reorganization in suppressing DNA replication stress. In other words, how can cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapy? Recently, she discovered another new director of the DNA replication process.
Chemotherapeutic drugs are used for the treatment of various cancer and though the treatment initially remains successful, however, over time many patients experience recurrence of aggressive cancer which acquire resistance towards the drugs and become chemoresistant. Taneja: ‘My research group focuses on why that happens. Chemoresistance is one of the biggest challenges in treating different types of cancer. A chemoresistant cell has an active DNA replication mechanism, which ensures rampant multiplication despite chemotherapy.’ The so-called replication forks that cause multiplication are protected by chromatin.
With the ERC grant, Taneja will investigate the underlying molecular mechanisms involved in the modification of chromatin in replication forks.
Taneja: ‘We have developed tools to observe chromatin at replication forks from a single molecule to base-pair resolution of the genome. Using different tumor models, we want to identify new targets aimed at breaking the chromatin processes, in order to still attack chemoresistant tumors with chemotherapy.’
Biomechanics and microstructure
Researcher Dr. Ali Akyildiz of the Department of Cardiology (Biomedical Engineering Group) will receive an ERC Starting Grant for his research on microstructural biomechanics for cardiovascular risk assessment.
Akyildiz: ‘As engineers, we understand why materials can break. That’s why we can safely build skyscrapers nearly thousand meters high and airplanes that can fly faster than the speed of sound. Many cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks and strokes, result from the rupture of atherosclerotic plaques in our arteries. Why those plaques rupture, we do not yet fully understand.’
Plaque rupture is the mechanical failure of the plaque due to blood pressure stress. ‘If we understand the mechanism, we can predict the risk of plaque rupture, which could prevent many cardiovascular events. We have many technical tools that allow us to examine microstructure of plaques to understand plaque rupture’, says Akyildiz.