Oscar Aparicio, associate professor of biological sciences in USC College, has received a $316,417 federal stimulus grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
The award will enable him to hire a post-doctoral researcher and support an additional graduate student, as well as upgrade his equipment to the highest-quality technologies for microarray data analyses.
Aparicio studies yeast cells for insights in the battle against human cancer — a disease caused by mistakes in the genetic programming of cells. Many of these mistakes arise during the process of DNA replication, which occurs each time a cell duplicates itself. The genetic material is vulnerable during its replication, so yeast cells, like human cells, use surveillance mechanisms called checkpoints to detect problems and regulate DNA replication and cell division.
His research is zeroing in on one aspect of this regulation: how replication forks, which are the structures responsible for copying the DNA, tolerate problems during the replication process and how a specific checkpoint regulates the function of replication forks that have encountered a block to their function. A recently published study from the Aparicio lab revealed that a checkpoint stops replication forks (presumably to allow the cell to repair or circumvent any problems) and that the replication forks are reactivated when the checkpoint is turned off. Aparicio is trying to elucidate this mechanism further.
Since all cells — not only those of yeast — must control the same process, his investigations have obvious implications for humans. These checkpoints are a critical line of defense against genetic chromosomal instabilities that can eventually lead to cancers in human cells. However, a better understanding of the exact mechanisms involved is still required.
Eventually, his research may contribute to the detection and treatment of cancer and other genetic diseases.
Eric Mankin of USC Viterbi School of Engineering contributed to this report.