Our DNA is packed tightly into the cells of our body. In order to make it fit, the DNA forms innumerable loops. Decades of scientific research have shown that cells make these loops at predetermined anchor sites. Also, these anchor sites turned out to be essential for the proper timing of gene expression, and therefore the ability of a cell to produce functional proteins. Malformed loops can cause diseases like cancer.
That's why Reuven Agami and his colleagues investigate these regulatory DNA-elements. These bits of DNA are involved in the formation of DNA loops, and they function as a stop signal between different parts of the DNA, preventing the expression of one gene from affecting its neighbor gene. With the emerging DNA-editing method CRISPR Agami will attempt to figure out which of the roughly 40.000 known anchor elements stimulate or block cancer, or interfere with treatment. With a different technique, he will investigate how those anchor elements manage to influence cell behavior and response to treatment.
“Researchers have identified many genes and mutations that are involved in cancer”, says Agami. “However, genes make up just a tiny fraction of our DNA—up to 3 percent. And we know in fact that the vast majority of cancer mutations appear in other parts of their DNA. Some even in or nearby anchor elements, for example. Our hope is that by carefully studying these parts of the DNA, we will be able to better understand cancer and identify new ways to fight it and better predict therapy outcomes.”
- The Reuven Agami group.
- This prestigious ERC Advanced grant is not Agami's first: in 2013 he received one for investigating enhancer RNA's.
- Read more about Agami's research into starvation of tumors by amino acid deprivation.