We are very pleased to welcome four new members to the EACR Board: Arkaitz Carracedo, Vincenzo Costanzo, Ruth Palmer and Andreas Trumpp, who were elected by a vote of the EACR General Assembly on 01 July 2018.
Here we speak with Vincenzo Costanzo about his current work and why cancer research is so important.
Principal Investigator, DNA Metabolism Unit, IFOM – Fondazione Istituto FIRC di Oncologia Molecolare
Tell us a little about your research. What is most exciting in your lab at the moment?
We study how DNA damage impacts on DNA replication and induce replication stress and how cells respond to it. To this end we combine the power of cellular biochemistry with advanced imaging techniques to study major DNA metabolism processes linked to DNA replication and DNA repair. This approach allowed us to uncover for the first time a role for RAD51 in protecting replication forks by preventing Mre11 mediated processing of nascent DNA, a process that is derailed in BRCA1 and BRCA2 defective cells. These findings have been confirmed in mammalian cells by several other studies and linked to cancer cell survival and sensitivity to chemotherapy, especially in tumors lacking functional BRCA1 and BRCA2 proteins, which control the activity of RAD51.
I feel privileged to be able to contribute to eradicate this disease with my research.
More recently, we have shown that extensive nascent DNA degradation is triggered in the absence of BRCA2 by the formation of reversed forks at stalled replication intermediates operated by SNF2 helicases, whose expression is also altered in tumor cells. This research field is particularly exciting for us as defective DNA repair in cancer can be exploited to selectively kill tumor cells, as shown by the use of the PARP inhibitors in a number of tumors.
What do you find most challenging about working in cancer research?
Understanding how cancer arises is among the most challenging human endeavours. This is due to the fact that we have to grasp the fundamental mechanisms underlying cellular and organism biology in order to understand what happens when they fail. This huge effort has to be seen as a common goal for humanity and should lead researchers to unite their efforts to achieve it. Therefore, we should do everything we can to foster interaction and share ideas and results to facilitate this goal.
Why are you proud to be a cancer researcher?
I am a medical doctor by training and I take all the failures in curing patients affected by cancer, especially in their young age, as personal failures. Therefore, I feel privileged to be able to contribute to eradicate this disease with my research. I hope that my effort as recently elected Board Member of the EACR, which I am proud of, will also help to support and communicate cancer research around Europe and the entire world.