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Leicester Researcher’s £250k Boost to Investigate DNA Damage Cancer Link

A Leicester researcher has been awarded a prestigious prize to continue her cutting-edge work to understand how the body responds to DNA damage that can ultimately lead to cancer.

Dr Amanda Chaplin, a molecular and cell biology lecturer at the University of Leicester, has won a £250,000 prize from the Lister Institute of Preventative Medicine in recognition of her research and its future potential.

Leicester Time: Leicester Researcher's £250k Boost to Investigate DNA Damage Cancer Link
Picture: University of Leicester

Speaking about the award, she said: “I’m very excited about the research because of its potential impact upon humans and the opportunity it has to make a real difference to cancer studies and other illnesses. The award means that research can continue at an even greater depth and intensity so it’s wonderful to receive.”

Dr Chaplin is among a group of eight from universities and institutions across the UK to receive a fellowship. She officially received her prize on March 6 at a special ceremony in the University’s Henry Wellcome building.

With the prize giving falling in the week of International Women’s Day, Amanda added: “I’m passionate about women in science so I also hope that this project helps to inspire other female scientists in their fields.”

Amanda’s research uses the structural biology method of Cryo-EM to determine the 3D structures of biomacromolecules. She will be using the university’s state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscopy facility (which also serves regional partners in Warwick, Birmingham and Nottingham along with researchers from the UK) to study in atomic-level detail the structure of DNA and proteins.

Double-strand breaks in DNA are extremely dangerous if not repaired and can cause genomic instability, cell death and cancer.

Dr Chaplin’s research aims to resolve key mechanisms to repair these breaks, known as non-homologous end joining (NHEJ). Proteins involved in NHEJ are also important during the body’s response to viral infection, which Dr Chaplin’s group is also investigating. 

“Our body contains the blueprint for life in molecules of DNA. Damage to these molecules occurs all the time and requires repair,” said Dr Chaplin.

“Typically, our bodies have the machinery to repair them, but when these mechanisms go wrong and the body doesn’t repair them, cancer can occur.

“If we can understand how the specific proteins important for NHEJ are able to repair the damaged DNA, it will help us to understand why this process might go wrong in the first place and therefore we have the potential to develop therapeutics against cancer and viruses.”

Similarly, the research could help scientists understand more about why the DNA within cancerous cells can repair and reoccur within the body.

Professor John Schwabe, Director of the Institute for Structural and Chemical Biology at the University of Leicester, congratulated Dr Chaplin.

He said: “Amanda is one of our star researchers. She gave an inspiring lecture and the Lister Prize is very well deserved. Amanda is already one of the UK’s leading researchers in this area and certainly has a bright future ahead.”

Lister Prize Fellowships are awarded to up-and-coming researchers undertaking high-quality biomedical research, and are designed to assist scientists in situations where the prize money will have a significant beneficial impact on their work and career.