May 15 2008 Posted: 00:00 IST
A Science Foundation Ireland Principal Investigator grant of €3.5 million has been awarded to NUI Galway's Professor Noel Lowndes for his research into the biology of cancer. Professor Lowndes is Head of the Department of Biochemistry at NUI Galway and founding Director of the Genome Stability Cluster, which is part of the University's National Centre for Biomedical Engineering Science (NCBES). The Genome Stability Cluster (GSC) is an international assembly of independent cancer biology laboratories, unique within Ireland, all working on basic cellular mechanisms involved in the development of cancer. Currently, it employs more than 40 researchers who are focused on increasing our understanding of cell cycle control and cellular responses to DNA damage. With this most recent award, the GSC has now been funded to the tune of €15 million since 2002. According to Professor Lowndes, this level of funding has followed the rapid establishment of ten independent laboratories within the Genome Stability Cluster at NUI Galway, giving Ireland an international presence in this field, "The Genome Stability Cluster is an NUI Galway initiative that firmly puts Ireland on the map in an area of science of fundamental importance to cancer. We have achieved the essential critical mass to make a real impact in this field and the future promises important strides in our understanding of this major killer." As a disease, cancer is characterised by abnormally elevated levels of genome instability. The latest grant will finance a team of ten researchers on a five-year research programme focusing on the fundamental biological response of genes and proteins to DNA damage. Professor Lowndes continued, "A detailed understanding of the many biochemical pathways that regulate genome stability will significantly enhance our knowledge of cancer and will lead to both better diagnosis of cancer and better prognosis of their outcomes. Importantly, it will also lead to the identification of novel targets for therapeutic interventions and the next generation of cancer therapies that target specific cancers at the molecular level. All cancers have defects in genome stability pathways and knowledge of the status of these pathways in patients will also impact on cancer prevention and pre-emptive treatments." The work will be performed in collaboration with Dr. Andrew Flaus, NCBES, NUI Galway, and world renowned scientists from the USA and Japan, including: Professor Don Hunt, Department of Chemistry, University of Virginia, USA; Professor, Shunichi Takeda, Department of Radiation Genetics, Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine, Japan; and Professor Eva Nogales, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Berkeley, USA. The establishment of the GSC would not have been possible without funding from Science Foundation Ireland, which has so far awarded major programme grants to six members of the cluster. Significant funding has also been obtained from the Health Research Board, the Higher Education authority and the European Union, with smaller amounts from Cancer Research Ireland, the Wellcome Trust (UK) and the National Institute of Health (USA). The GSC complements two other multidisciplinary research clusters at the NCBES, which are focused on Apoptosis (cell death) and Breast Cancer. All are working to understand the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms responsible for the initiation and progression of cancer, and to develop new and better cancer therapies.