Project details

Researcher: Professor Jo Morris

Location: University of Birmingham

Project title:  Investigating a new way that BRCA1 gene faults could cause breast cancer

Key area: Risk and prevention

The challenge

Faults in the BRCA1 gene (which provides the instructions to make the BRCA1 protein) can dramatically increase a person’s risk of developing breast cancer. We need to understand better how the BRCA1 protein works – and ultimately how BRCA1 mutations cause breast cancer – in order to find ways to counteract this increased risk.

The science behind the project

The main role of the BRCA1 protein is to help repair damaged DNA in the cell. A lack of BRCA1, caused by a BRCA1 gene mutation for example, means the cell is unable to repair its DNA properly, which could lead to cells becoming cancerous.

However, Professor Jo Morris has found that another role for BRCA1, separate to DNA repair, might also be involved in cancer development, something that Professor Morris will investigate further in this project.

To do this, Professor Morris will be studying breast tumours that develop in special breeds of mice, some of which carry mutations in their BRCA1 genes and other genes. Professor Morris will also be able to take cells from these mouse tumours to grow in the lab, which will enable her to study in more detail the molecules that normally work with BRCA1 to help prevent the development of breast cancer.

What difference will this project make?

Professor Morris’ ground-breaking research could uncover new roles for BRCA1 that have previously been overlooked, which will help us understand how different BRCA1 mutations cause breast cancer. This could provide women with a more accurate picture of their risk, and could even help find new ways to prevent and treat the disease.

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