James Haber

February 3, 2017

By Lawrence Goodman | BrandeisNOW

On any given day, our DNA takes a lot of damage. In a single cell, as many as 10,000 errors or lesions in our chromosomes can arise in the course of 24 hours. Most are accurately repaired, so the cell is unaffected, but some result in permanent errors (mutations or chromosome rearrangements) that lead to diseases, including cancer.

For nearly three decades, Abraham and Etta Goodman Professor of Biology James Haber has studied DNA repair, the processes whereby insults to our genetic code are corrected. In the cover story of the February 2 issue of Molecular Cell, he and his students Anuja Mehta and Annette Beach offer new insights into the mechanisms of DNA repair that go awry in cancer cells.

Haber's lab research focused on double-strand breaks (DSB), a particularly hazardous form of DNA damage where both strands in the double helix are severed. In certain types of cancers, the repair process for DSBs go awry. Mutations are introduced into the genetic code that cause cells to become tumorous. "Our job is to understand what exactly is going on in the repair process and how exactly it can go wrong," says Haber, who is also the director of the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center.

Among Haber and his team's findings:

The research was supported by NIH grants GM20056 and GM76020.