Human Science Professor Earns NIH Grant for DNA Research

AUGUST 22, 2014 – A Georgetown University geneticist has recently earned a grant from the National Institutes of Health to support her research focusing on genome stability.

Jan LaRocque, PhD, assistant professor of human science at the School of Nursing & Health Studies, received a $350,000 Academic Research Enhancement Award (R15) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to conduct a study on double-stand break repair and suppression of recombination in D. melanogaster, commonly known as fruit flies.

Understanding Mechanisms

“Cells are constantly exposed to DNA damage and must respond to and repair this damage to evade death and genomic instability,” says the principal investigator.  “Failure to accurately repair DNA damage can lead to cell death, genetic mutations, aging, and cancer.”

The project aims to use genetic and molecular tools to understand the mechanisms of how double-strand DNA breaks are repaired, adds LaRocque, who says that these breaks are particularly harmful.

“We will obtain a clearer understanding of how cells maintain genome integrity and elude cell death, premature aging, and tumorigenesis associated with these types of lesions,” she says.

Continuing Research

Additionally, LaRocque notes that the grant will help support her effort to educate undergraduate students who work in her laboratory.

Earlier this year, the geneticist published “Double-strand Break Repair Assays Determine Pathway Choice and Structure of Gene Conversion Events in Drosophila melanogaster,” which appeared in G3: Genes, Genomics, and Genetics.  Undergraduates Joseph Brooks (NHS’15), Anthony Do (NHS’15), and Margot Le Neveu (NHS’14) co-authored the peer-reviewed manuscript.

She also recently earned a grant award from $100,000 from the American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR).

In that study, LaRocque – also using a fruit fly model – is investigating genome instability and DNA damage in normal aged cells, as well as cells associated with premature aging syndromes.

Editor’s Note

The new grant is supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award number R15GM110454.  Future publications about this research are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

By Bill Cessato