Royal Society University Research Fellowship for Dr Martin Cohn

Dr Martin Cohn in the department has been awarded a prestigious Royal Society University Research Fellowship.

Dr Cohn with lab members (from left to right): Jamie Zhan, Maarten van der Velden and Eric Liang

Dr Cohn with lab members (from left to right): Jamie Zhan, Maarten van der Velden and Eric Liang

He is one of 40 new University Research Fellows announced today by the Royal Society, who have taken up their posts at the beginning of October. The scheme aims to provide outstanding scientists, who have the potential to become leaders in their chosen fields, with the opportunity to build an independent research career.

The fellowship, for 5 years in the first instance, will help support Dr Cohn's work on DNA damage repair pathways in the cell. He joins Dr Mark Leake, another Royal Society University Research Fellow in the department who is jointly based in the Biochemistry and Physics Departments.

Dr Cohn was recently recruited to the department from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at Harvard Medical School. His research group studies how DNA repair protects the genome in human cells.

DNA in cells is continuously undergoing repair, with thousands of sites targeted every day in a single cell. Damage is inflicted by normal metabolic processes, by environmental factors and as a result of errors during DNA replication. If left unattended, the damage would have harmful consequences on the cell and in the worst case could lead to the development of cancer.

Cells use different DNA damage pathways to repair different types of damage. They have a battery of basic pathways which will remove damage such as double-strand breaks, DNA adducts, and cross-linked DNA strands (where the strands become physically crossed).

Before the cell can set about repairing the damage, it must first identify the damage and deploy the correct DNA damage pathway.

'The correct DNA repair proteins must be recruited to sites of damage,' explains Dr Cohn. 'This may seem obvious, but in most of the pathways we don't understand how these proteins, which are all over the nucleus, far away for the site, get onto the site to fulfil the repair reaction.'

The DNA damage identification mechanism is so sensitive that it can spot just one cross-link amongst the millions of base pairs of DNA in a cell. And a single cross-link is enough to block replication and cell division.

Dr Cohn's lab focuses on the DNA cross-link repair pathway. Little is known about the proteins which recognise this particular lesion. 'We want to dissect the repair reaction and understand how the correct DNA repair pathway is chosen and initiated,' says Dr Cohn. 'We take lots of approaches including cell biology, genetics and biochemistry. For example, we identify new proteins involved in the repair pathway and see how cells behave when a protein is down-regulated.'

As well as providing support to Dr Cohn, the Royal Society University Research Fellowship comes with the expectation that Fellows will interact with the Society and contribute to some of its activities.





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