Biologist Titia de Lange studies the causes of cancer

April 27, 2018

Professor Titia de Lange received the 47th Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award for her research on telomeres and chromosomal degradation, a process that can lead to cancer, and delivered a lecture on her work on April 12. The Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award, established in 1971, is awarded to scientists who conduct medical research, with a focus on “recent discoveries of particular originality and importance to basic medical research,” according to the award’s website. De Lange is the Director of the Anderson Center for Cancer Research at Rockefeller University and a member of the National Academy of Medicine.

Telomeres, protective elements located at each end of a chromosome, protect chromosomes from decay and ensure they can properly replicate. They also contribute to the cell’s aging process. Telomeres play an important role in the early stages of cancer, a disease caused by abnormal cells.

De Lange’s focuses on mammalian telomeres, which decay as cells proliferate. Her lab identified a protein complex, shelterin, that specifically binds to telomeres in six subunits. De Lange and her colleagues followed the progress of telomeres lacking one or more of the six shelterin subunits. This work showed that the chromosomes of cells lacking shelterin decay are part of DNA damage.

De Lange’s lab is researching how shelterin proteins prevent genome instability in human cancer. Researchers found that inside the “t-loop” structure of telomeres, a special mechanism is responsible for hiding the telomere ends from DNA damage. By specifying a component of the telomere structure (named TRF2) and determining its important role in the repression of DNA damage, the lab concluded that the special telomere structure may account for the dysfunction of the chromosome ends. If the theory is proven, it will be a big step toward discovering the cause of human cancer.

De Lange earned her PhD from University of Amsterdam in 1981 and has devoted herself to the research of telomeres and chromosomes for over 25 years. As a foreign member of US National Academy of Sciences, de Lange has received “too many awards to be listed here,” as the host, Professor James Haber (BIO), put it.

Menu Title