While it's well known that sunlight and chemical carcinogens can mutate DNA, and that mutations are essential for cancer to develop, Harris is the first to discover that this human enzyme is a major cause mutation in cancer. He believes that APOBEC3B is a biological "double-edged sword" that protects some cells from viruses such as HIV and produces mutations that give rise to cancer in others.
Harris hopes to find a way to block APOBEC3B from mutating DNA, just as sunscreen blocks mutations that lead to melanoma. Many cancer mutations have been identified, but discovering a common source of mutation such as APOBEC3B is expected to help researchers to move "upstream" and look for a way to stop carcinogenesis closer to its source, he says, "like damming a river before it wreaks havoc on downstream areas." It's also possible that a simple test for APOBEC3B could be used to detect cancer earlier.
Harris is a professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, which is a joint department of the College of Biological Sciences and the Medical School. He is also a member of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, which is part of the National Cancer Institute's network of Comprehensive Cancer Centers. Harris and colleagues are grateful for support from the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program, the Jimmy V Foundation, and the Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance.
|Contact: Peggy Rinard|
University of Minnesota