Laura Baranello

Dr Karolinska Institutet Medicine Year of admission: 2016

Developing gentler cancer treatments
Pharmaceuticals that inhibit enzymes called topoisomerases are effective at killing many types of cancer cells. Unfortunately, the body’s healthy cells are also damaged by this treatment. As a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, Laura Baranello will study topoisomerases in detail, aiming to develop treatments more selective towards cancer cells.

Topoisomerases are important cellular enzymes; they are involved in processes in which genes are copied, or when DNA is replicated prior to cell division. They unwind the DNA double helix, so that the enzymes that are going to transcribe genes or replicate DNA strands are able to do so.

To stop the uncontrolled growth of cancer cells, it is now common to use pharmaceuticals that inhibit the topoisomerases’ activity. Cells are unable to divide if the DNA cannot be copied, which kills cancer cells. Unfortunately, these powerful drugs also affect other cells in the body that divide frequently, such as red and white blood cells.

Dr. Laura Baranello at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, USA, has studied topoisomerases in detail and made the ground-breaking discovery that their activity is stimulated by other enzymes in the cell. She will now continue to study the mechanism of regulation of topoisomerases, with the aim of developing topoisomerase inhibitors that selectively affect cancer cells.

As a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, Laura Baranello will work at Karolinska Institutet.

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Photo: Markus Marcetic