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Dr Eva Petermann

Dr Eva Petermann, a Senior Lecturer in the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences, has been awarded a grant from the MRC to predict and detect negative effects of pollution to aid understanding of the environmental causes of cancer and cancer development in general.

Everyone is exposed to low levels of cancer-causing agents in the environment. Benzopyrene is a general pollutant that is found in smoke from woodburners, exhaust fumes and barbequed meat. Benzopyrene damages the DNA to cause mutations that likely contribute to the development of common cancers such as lung and skin cancer.

"Benzopyrene causes cancer through its main active ingredient, BPDE," Dr Petermann explains. "The pathways by which BPDE causes mutations are still incompletely understood. We have new insights that a genome maintenance pathway called homologous recombination proceeds by an unusual new mechanism at BPDE damage. Understanding this new mechanism could help explain some of the effects of benzopyrene exposure, which could help to better predict and detect negative effects of pollution. It could also help predict which individuals will be more sensitive to carcinogen exposure."

The aim of Dr Petermann's project is to treat human cell lines with BPDE and use molecular biology methods, such as microscopy, to characterise the new homologous recombination pathway in detail. This will reveal new insights into the effects of benzopyrene exposure in the cells, which is important for understanding environmental causes of cancer and cancer development in general. Such insights can improve political decisions around environmental and occupational safety regulations, and help to develop new approaches for the assessment of individual risk, as well as early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

The MRC application was supported by pump priming funds from the CRUK Birmingham Centre.