DNA Day 2020
DNA Day (25/4/20) commemorates the successful completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003 and the discovery of DNA’s double helix in 1953.
The goal of National DNA Day is to offer students, teachers and the public an opportunity to learn about and celebrate the latest advances in genomic research and explore how those advances impact their lives.
The Human Genome Project
The Human Genome Project (HGP) was an international, collaborative research programme which aimed to completely map and understand all human genes. collectively known as the genome. Beginning in October 1990 and ending in April 2003, the HGP enabled us to read the full genetic blueprint of a human being.
The HGP has revealed that there are probably about 20,500 human genes. This research has given the world a resource of detailed information about the structure, organization and function of the complete set of human genes.
Of course, information is only as good as the ability to use it. Therefore, advanced methods for widely disseminating the information generated by the HGP to scientists, physicians and others, is necessary in order to ensure the most rapid application of research results for the benefit of humanity. Biomedical technology and research are particular beneficiaries of the HGP
Research at the School of Medical Science
Contemporary scientific research is driving an unprecedented paradigm shift in our approach to medicine and the understanding of human biology. Technological advances in diverse fields of study, including imaging, molecular genetics and computational science are not only revealing the intricate complexities of human diseases but are also providing new approaches to their treatment and management in the clinical setting.
These advances are paving the way for a more personalized path for the management of the health of the populous, all of whom will have distinct susceptibilities / predispositions to disease, as well as distinct responses to therapies. Understanding the individual nature of patients, in concert with the advances in technologies, will enable us to develop more effective treatment and management strategies that can be implemented at an earlier stage in disease progression, which will ultimately enhance human wellbeing.
In the School of Medical Sciences, we have a range of fundamental research programmes ongoing that are ultimately aimed at developing a knowledge base that will drive the treatment and management regimes of the future. Research interests within the School range from trying to understand the complexities of human cancers and stem cell biology through to addressing the challenges of microbial-mediated disease, with a strong focus on cancer biology and genetics in the North West Cancer Research Institute.
Bangor North West Cancer Research Institute
The Bangor North West Cancer Research Institute was founded in 2004, with support from North West Cancer Research (NWCR), Bangor University and the Welsh Assembly Government. The Institute is housed in laboratories at the School of Medical Sciences in the Brambell Building.
The School has a very strong research ethos and in the recent UK Government’s Research Excellence Framework exercise (2014), School of Medical Sciences academic research staff were assessed by the Allied Health panel which indicated that 95% of Bangor University staff were “internationally excellent” or “world leading” resulting Bangor University ranked 3rd in the UK for the overall quality of research outputs in this discipline.
This indicates that research within the School of Medical Sciences at Bangor University is making a major contribution to this exciting era of medical advancement and students and researchers benefit from working in a world-leading environment.
For individual staff research interests, scroll through the following profiles:
Dr Ramsay Mcfarlane
Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences (Medical & Molecular Genetics)
Deputy Head of School – Research
Previous research has been aimed at understanding how complex organisms, such as humans, regulate and maintain genetic stability to avoid genetic disease such as cancer. Key findings in his group include the discovery that the mechanism that drives most cancers, failures in DNA replication, does not occur uniformly throughout the genome and, more recently, that a highly conserved set of proteins control the terminal regions, the telomeres, which are important in cancer progression and human ageing. They have extended their work to identify a large cohort of new cancer biomarker genes and are currently exploring ways in which the products of these genes can be used for the development of new drug targets.
Practical applications/impact of findings to date
We have identified a large number of cancer-specific genes. These can be exploited in a number of ways. Firstly, their expression profile can be used to stratify patients to select therapeutic strategies. Secondly, they have great potential in the development of early diagnostic technologies. Thirdly, they provide unique therapeutic targets, including direct drug targets and targets for immunotherapeutic based strategies. Additionally, we have developed computational tools that enable the wider community to explore the cancer specificity of groups of genes they may be working on in a more systematic fashion
Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences (Cancer Biology)
Deputy Head of School - Impact
Chairman of the North West Cancer Research Institute at Bangor University
My current research focusses around the role that DNA repair mechanisms play in resisting treatment with clinically important DNA damaging cancer drugs. Topoisomerase inhibitors (e.g. Irinitecan and Etoposide) and nucleoside analogues (e.g. Gemcitabine and Ara-C) have been used for decades in the clinic, but little is known about DNA repair pathways that resist treatment with these important cancer drugs. To improve efficacy and tailor the choice of drug to specific genetic defects in tumours (personalised medicine), we need to understand which pathways resist treatment. An MRE11 mutation, found in the majority of colorectal cancers with microsatellite instability, results in loss of nuclease activity.
Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences (Cancer Cell Signalling)
Cancer cell metabolism, mitochondrial function
Previously, our research focused on genome instability, a main of cancer and birth defects. We identified that certain regions of the chromosomes, named “Replication Slow Zones (RSZs)”, are more likely to break than others, thereby more likely to contribute to genome instability. Another area of research has been the functions of ATM and ATR proteins. In humans, inactivation of ATM and ATR leads Ataxia-Telangiectasia (A-T) and Seckel syndrome, respectively. They are progressive genetic disorders characterized by neuronal degeneration, cancer, microcephaly, growth retardation, and infertility. We identified two meiosis-specific functions of ATM/ATR, providing mechanistic insight underlying infertility associated with A-T.
Director of postgraduate studies
Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences (Immunology)
Utilising a process termed ‘Immunosurveillance’, our immune system plays a significant role in the battle against cancer. Specialised immune cells help identify and destroy Cancerous cells, limit their proliferation and inhibit tumour growth.
Unfortunately, tumours can evolve mechanisms to avoid and ‘escape’ this immune attack, or indeed can even reprogram immune cells to aid tumour survival and expansion.
Excitingly though, cutting edge research into the agents and mechanisms that regulate our immune system has allowed the development of new cancer-immunotherapies, which can enhance and/or reinvigorate our immune system to once again attack cancerous cells and tumours.
Intriguingly, a number of ‘systemic autoimmune diseases’ - conditions where our immune system mistakenly attacks and damages normal, healthy tissue - are linked to either increased or decreased prevalence of certain Cancers. This suggests key drivers of ‘systemic autoimmunity’ may be involved in either suppressing or enhancing the destruction of certain Cancers and that the ability to identify and regulate key 'systemic auto-antigens' could reveal potent weapons in the fight against Cancer.
The research in my group primarily focuses on investigating the roles of autoantigens, in early-stage and advanced cancers, with the aim of identifying novel cancer biomarkers and potential targets for targeted anti-Cancer Immunotherapies.
Dr Chris Staples
Postgraduate Research Lead
Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences (Cancer Biology)
Work in the Staples laboratory focuses largely on the characterisation of novel genome stability factors. Genome instability and DNA damage are central pathogenic mechanisms involved in cancer predisposition, premature ageing and neurodegeneration. Indeed, some cancer therapies target cancer-specific defects in DNA repair or replication fork protection mechanisms, and as such a complete understanding of such mechanisms is a major asset in the fight against cancer.
We have identified several novel DNA repair and replication fork protection factors, and our aim is to gain mechanistic insight into the function of these largely unstudied proteins with the ultimate goal of using this knowledge to design novel cancer therapies and/or predict therapeutic response.
Publication date: 24 April 2020