West lab DNA Recombination and Repair Laboratory

Cell unable to complete the recombinational repair process show abnormalities at cell division.

We are finding out how cells repair damage to their DNA to understand more about cancer and other diseases.

Every day the DNA in our cells gets damaged, whether by things in the world around us – such as harmful chemicals or ultraviolet light from the sun – or as a side effect of the natural processes at work within the body.

Fortunately, our cells are equipped with tiny molecular ‘toolkits’ that detect damage and repair it, helping to keep us healthy. Failure to repair DNA promptly and properly can lead to cancer or other diseases, or it may cause cells to stop growing or die.

Our research is focused on a type of DNA repair, known as homologous recombination, that rejoins broken chromosomes. We have isolated many of the key players in this process and study the precise details of the DNA repair machinery to understand more about how all the different parts of the toolkit fit together and what they do.

People who inherit faults in the genes involved in homologous recombination have an increased risk of cancer or other conditions. For example, people with a faulty version of a gene called BRCA2 are at a greatly increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, while faults in other genes cause inheritable diseases such as Fanconi Anemia or Blooms syndrome.

By understanding exactly how these genes work and seeing what happens when they go wrong, our work is shedding light on the fundamental processes that keep our cells healthy and also point towards new ways to prevent or treat cancer and other diseases.