Cancer is a genetic disease, occurring when inherited or environmental factors corrupt the DNA in cells.
Although scientists have made strides in understanding cancer’s genetic roots, current technologies limit their capacity to understand the complexities of mutations and efficiently find therapies that work.
That’s why Masonic Scholar and U biochemistry faculty member Anja Bielinsky, Ph.D., is working to create powerful tools that track how suspicious genes both mutate and respond to anti-cancer drugs.
In 2017, Bielinsky’s team achieved a major milestone by launching a cell library that they have used to trigger and track cancer-mimicking mutations in suspect genes. So far, they have disrupted 1,000 genes that are potential cancer culprits and inserted barcodes to track the mutations.
In 2018, they secured a grant from the National Science Foundation, which when combined with Masonic support, will allow them to take the next big step in their work. Their plan is to complete 25 to 50 anti-cancer drug screens and track which mutations are more vulnerable or resistant to the drugs. This work could significantly expedite the discovery of targeted therapies—while the current standard in drug screening is to test numerous compounds against one defective cell at a time, Bielinsky’s screens will test just as many compounds against hundreds of defective cells at a time.
Without Masonic support, which has allowed Bielinsky to hire experienced scientists to her team, this work would not be where it is today.