Trinity-led genetics research could lead to developments in cancer treatment

Trinity Associate Professor in Genetics Adrian Bracken led the team

A research team led by a Trinity professor has found new biological targets which may allow for the development of new cancer therapies for cancers that develop resistance to existing drugs. 

Trinity Associate Professor in Genetics, Adrian Bracken, led the team, which made the new discovery through the study of polycomb genes, which are vital to development and play an important role in regulating cellular identity. Their importance has become increasingly apparent as advances in molecular techniques are made. 

Ever since the discovery of this gene, major developments have been made in cancer treatments which can target these mutated genes in affected patients. However, despite promising results in clinical trials, there have been cases where resistance has emerged in the cancerous cells. In light of this, the Trinity scientists have, through their new findings, highlighted possible alternatives which may be used where resistance does arise.

The team at Trinity took inspiration from a 2011 study, which identified a polycomb gene as a mutant in lymphomas; cancers which affect the immune system. Dr. Evan Healy, an Irish Research Council (IRC) PhD fellow in Professor Bracken’s lab, is the lead author on the paper, which was published in parallel with another study conducted by researchers at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center . Both studies found that for the EZH2 gene to function, a number of “accessory components” are required. 

Targeted treatments which inhibit access to these components could therefore pave the way for alternative treatments where resistance has arisen to existing EZH2 inhibitor drugs. 

Speaking on the newly published findings, Prof Bracken discussed the team’s curiosity and desire to further our understanding of how cells work. “This new discovery was driven purely by our curiosity to understand how polycombs regulate cellular identity, but we also anticipate that it will lead to new opportunities to develop alternative treatments for patients with cancers driven by mutations in EZH2 and its related genes.” 

Earlier this year, it was announced by the IRC that Prof Bracken was one of 12 scientists selected for their Advanced Laureate Awards Programme. 

Ciarán Ó Cuív

Ciaran Ó Cuív is the Deputy SciTech Editor of Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister Zoology student.