Press Release


Guardians of the genome: the power of epidrugs to target DNA repair benefits breast cancer patients

On October 25th Dr. Till Bartke, Deputy Director of the Institute of Functional Epigenetics (IFE) and member of the epigenetics@HMGU community, participated in the annual breast cancer patients’ congress “mamazone Projekt Diplompatientin®” in Augsburg. He supported an initiative that encourages an open dialogue between patients, physicians and researchers by explaining how DNA damage repair mechanisms can be targeted for epigenetic cancer therapies.

In 1999, the journalist and author Ursula Goldmann-Posch from Bolzano founded the initiative “mamazone – Women and Research against Breast Cancer e.V.” in Augsburg. Mamazone is currently the largest German breast cancer initiative and has originated many projects, including the project “Diplompatientin®”, to encourage affected women not to accept their roles as victims of the disease. The aim of the project “Diplompatientin®” is to educate women into becoming active patients, who can proactively participate in their therapy, by providing them with as much information about the disease as possible. During the patients’ “mamazone Projekt Diplompatientin®” seminars, researchers and physicians give understandable background information about various aspects of breast cancer to women, to empower them to tackle the disease head-on. Dr. Till Bartke, the deputy director of the Institute of Functional Epigenetics (IFE) at the HMGU, was invited by the organising committee to this year’s congress. "I felt very honoured that I got the chance to present our research in front of an audience, for which our work could personally matter”, said Bartke. Together with the groups of Anja Groth* and Ross Chapman**, Bartke’s team could reveal that DNA repair machinery might serve as a target for epigenetic cancer therapies in the future.
DNA carries the hereditary information in all living organisms and DNA double-strand breaks (DSBs) are harmful for the genome integrity. Each cell possesses two major pathways to repair DSBs and if balanced, they are highly effective. However, if unbalanced, they are key contributors of cancer development. For example, women carrying a mutated BRCA1 gene have an increased risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer, since only one DNA repair pathway is fully functional. “Also cancer cells depend on efficient DNA repair. We observed that BRCA1-cancer cells are more susceptible to inhibitors of DNA repair than healthy cells, since they lack the functional alternative”, said Bartke. “Our findings have opened up the possibility to develop a novel class of epigenetic drugs that could make other drugs usable for a broader spectrum of patients. That is a very exciting perspective for the treatment of cancer and might really benefit patients in future.”

*  Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC) of the University of Copenhagen

**  Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford

Further Information:

For more information to “Mamazone” go here  and to “Project Diplompatientin®” go here.

Original paper:  Nakamura, K. & Saredi, G. & Becker, J.R. et al. (2019): H4K20me0 recognition by BRCA1-BARD1 directs homologous recombination in sister chromatids. Nature Cell Biology, DOI: 10.1038/s41556-019-0282-9.

Original press release: For the full press release of the paper go here.