The Josephine Nefkens Price is an award for cancer research that gets awarded every three years. The winner of 2022 is Roland Kanaar! We know him as our former Molecular Biology of the Cell teacher as and one of the founders of the Nanobiology programme. Sadly he stopped teaching as he is now the head of the department Moleculair Biology at the Erasmus MC.
He won this price for his research on DNA repair mechanisms. This very fundamental research ended up giving results which could be applied to treat cancer!
Kanaar and his team found that people who have a rare mutation in the BRCA-gene don’t have a functioning DNA-repair machine anymore. The cancer cells then activate a back up repair mechanism, but that mechanism can be stopped with PARP inhibitors. This causes the mutations in the DNA of the cancer cell to accumulate which kills it.
But could these PARP inhibitors help more people than just those with the rare BRCA mutation? There are more components of the repair mechanism that can be broken. Kanaar and his team created a test that can measure if the DNA repair mechanism still works in a tumor cell. If this is not the case the patient could benefit from PARP inhibitors. A first test showed that around one third of patients with metastatic cancer could benefit form the PARP inhibitors!
Kanaar said that this is why fundamental research is important. Without the fundamental knowledge they could have never developed this test. So he encourages people to keep doing curiosity driven research. I think as nanobiologists we will certainly keep doing this!
For more information look here.