Birmingham researcher wins three major awards to work on DNA repair

Across 2022, Professor Jo Morris, from the Institute of Cancer and Genomics, has secured more than £4.9 million to better understand DNA replication and repair.

DNA molecule

The three separate awards will enable Professor Morris and her team to strengthen researchers’ understanding of the mechanisms of DNA repair. DNA is the molecule that contains the genetic code for life and is present in every cell in every organism. These cells must divide, and the code must replicate, so that organisms are able to function. It is inevitable that these natural processes will occasionally go wrong, fortunately the cell can recognise DNA mistakes and make repairs. This means that if damage occurs it can be rectified before causing disease.

Improving understanding of these vital repair mechanisms is a very early step in building a knowledge base that may help to prevent the onset of cancer, neurodegeneration, and premature aging.

Although the purpose of this research is to improve our understanding of biological mechanisms, there is potential that findings will provide the building blocks for further research, which could, in turn, lead to improved cancer treatments.

Professor Jo Morris

Most recently, Professor Morris has been granted £2.1 million, through the highly competitive Wellcome Trust Discovery Award. This prestigious award recognises Professor Morris and The University of Birmingham as key players in genomics research. The funding will allow her to lead a team to address how DNA replication happens without making errors, particularly when the machinery that copies DNA is slowed or stalled.

A Medical Research Council project grant, for just under £1m, will enable Professor Morris and Co-Principal Investigator Dr Andy Turnell, to examine how a tiny protein, called SUMO, acts during the process of cell division to ensure chromosomes are correctly aligned and separated. Potential cancer drugs are being tested at the moment, which work by inhibiting this enzyme. Further understanding could help us to use these new cancer drugs more effectively.

A further £1.8m, granted through Horizon Europe, will fund a project looking at a new way of imaging and measuring DNA repair as it happens. Focusing on a particularly important mechanism, known as homologous recombination. Professor Morris will collaborate on this project with Dr Robert Neely from the School of Chemistry.

The research is expected to begin in 2023, once the appropriate teams have been recruited.