Dekker and her team are trying to stop tumor development by interfering with the molecular motors that copy DNA during cell division. This will cut off the genetic information flow that tumours need to grow, and could complement existing cancer therapies, while in the longer term bringing the promise of improved outcomes with greatly reduced side effects.
There are three primary ways of treating cancer at present, and these have fundamentally changed little in 30 years. In the case of solid tumours, surgery can be used to cut out the cancerous tissue, while radiation therapy can kill the malignant cells, and chemotherapy stops them dividing. Dekker's work is aiming towards a new generation of drugs that target cancer cells much more specifically than traditional chemotherapy, avoiding side effects such as temporary hair loss.
Dekker is focusing on an enzyme called Topoisomerase IB that plays a key role in some of the molecular motors involved in the processes of DNA and RNA copying during cell division. These are responsible for reading the genetic code and making sure it is encoded correctly in the daughter cell. In healthy cells it is important that this process works normally, but in cancer cells it is a natural target for disruptive therapy. "Specifically targeting these molecular motors in cancer cells would then prevent the cancer cells from growing into a larger tumor," said Dekker.
This molecular copying machinery, constructed mostly out of proteins, in effect walks along the DNA double helix reading the genetic code so that it can be copied accurately into new DNA during division. Other components of the machinery are responsible for slicing and assembling the DNA itself. All of these are potential targets for anti-cancer therapy, providing it is possible to single out the tumor cells. Most existing chemotherapy targets all dividing cells, and the aim to find more sensitive techniques.
However Dekker's work is not just confined to cancer, having the broader goal within the ESF EURYI project of unraveling the underlying physical principles behind these molecular motors that operate at the nanometer scale to process and manipulate the information stored within the DNA and RNA of our cells. Dekker is exploiting a variety of new highly sensitive manipulation and imaging techniques capable of resolving single molecules. These include force spectroscopy, new forms of optical microscopy with greatly improved resolving power and field depth, as well as nanotechnologies. The research involves cross-disciplinary work among scientists in different fields with the long term goal of developing more precisely targeted molecular medicines for a variety of diseases involving disruption to normal cellular functions and not just cancer.
Dekker's work has already shown great promise, and she has been able to predict what effect certain antitumor drugs would have on the basis of her molecular insights, confirming her hypotheses in yeast cells. "Indeed the work with antitumor drugs is, as far as I know, the first experiment in which single-molecule experiments have resulted in a prediction for a cellular effect," said Dekker.
Dekker, a 36-year-old Dutch associate professor at the Technische Universiteit Delft in the Netherlands, is currently undertaking single-molecule studies of DNA and RNA and their interactions with proteins, integrated with nanotechnology where appropriate. She gained her PhD in physics at Harvard University, having graduated from Yale.
As well as being awarded multiple grants and fellowship programmes, Dr. Dekker is a member of the Council of the Biophysical Society, and of the Young Academy of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is actively involved in conference organization at the interface of biology and physics. Her group's research has appeared in Nature and in The Proceedings of the National Academy, USA, among others.
The EURYI awards scheme, entering its fourth and final year, is designed to attract outstanding young scientists from around the world to create their own research teams at European research centres and launch potential world-leading research careers. Most awards are between EUR1,000,000 and EUR1,250,000, comparable in size to the Nobel Prize. Dekker will receive his award in Helsinki, Finland on 27 September 2007 with other 19 young researchers.
Thomas Lau | alfa
Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth
09.12.2016 | Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Plant-based substance boosts eyelash growth
09.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Polymerforschung IAP
Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.
Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
09.12.2016 | Life Sciences
09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine