Chemotherapy is one of our strongest weapons for treating cancer, but it also harms healthy cells and causes serious side effects in patients. Researchers at the Hieter Laboratory at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver hope to develop a more targeted approach, one that takes advantage of the genetic changes that exists in cancer. Their approach identifies which combination of genetic changes will selectively kill cancer cells. Answering that question will be key to developing new targeted drugs to fight cancer.
Cancer cells often contain multiple gene mutations or changes which affect the stability of the genome, but whether this instability is a cause or consequence of cancer remains to be understood. A project led by Dr. Supipi Kaluarachchi Duffy is using high throughput genetic screens, overproducing one gene at a time in yeast, to identify which genes lead to genome stability. She will then identify genetic changes that are common in both yeast and human cancers and leverage these to find secondary genetic targets. Yeast is a great model organism for this work because it shares many of the fundamental biological pathways that are essential for life.
“The first step is distinguishing between a gene whose overproduction contributes to genome instability and a gene that has no effect,” says Duffy. “The end result would be more targeted chemotherapy at lower doses and with fewer side effects.”