The DNA Damage and Host Response program at the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute studies DNA repair and genomic instability in cancer and normal tissues, as well as various biological mechanisms of and new interventions in adverse effects of cancer therapy.
In particular, investigators are interested in genomic modifications involved in oncogenesis, resistance to therapy, and biological mechanisms such as inflammation and oxidative stress that contribute to short- and long-term sequelae of radiation and chemotherapy. The long-term goal of the program is to improve cancer treatment outcomes as well as quality of life of cancer patients and survivors.
Marjan Boerma, Ph.D., associate professor in the UAMS College of Pharmacy Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and director of the Division of Radiation Health, serves as program leader.
The program’s two components — DNA damage and host response – go hand in hand, Boerma said.
“Under the umbrella of host response falls any type of research that examines how normal or non-cancerous cells and tissues are affected by treatment, whether it be chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immune modulation or any other type of therapy,” she said.
Therapy-induced injuries in non-cancerous cells and tissues often leads to side effects, which can range from mild to severe. The response also can change the microenvironment in which the tumor is growing.
“By studying the response of normal tissue, we hope to develop methods to modify tumors by modifying the environment surrounding them. In addition, this research will also help us better understand how to reduce side effects, which will make therapy safer and more tolerable,” Boerma said.
The program’s second component examines DNA damage and repair. Understanding how these processes operate in both cancer cells and normal cells is an ideal pairing with the study of host response.
“Since DNA damage is at the basis of the tumor and normal tissue response to many cancer therapies, DNA damage and host response really do go hand in hand in my mind,” Boerma said.
In the short term, Boerma hopes that program members take the opportunity get to know each other, build new collaborations and continue existing collaborations.
“By working together, we will strengthen our program as a whole,” she said.
Long-term goals include securing new extramural funding, both for individual program members and collaborative groups. This includes groups within the DNA Repair and Host Response program and with members of the Cancer Institute’s other research programs.
“Funding is, of course, essential to our research. By working together, our projects will grow and our ability to attain funding will increase along with it,” she said.