Current Research

Current research focus and ongoing cancer studies

Cancer is a complex disease that is caused by multiple factors. Deficits in DNA repair capacity (DRC) are known to cause certain familial breast cancers, and dysregulation of DRC develops with progressive carcinogenesis. However, the effect of DRC on carcinogenesis of sporadic breast tumors has not been well characterized—and the factors associated with DRC variability are still poorly understood. DNA repair is integral to maintaining genomic integrity, and carcinogenesis occurs when efficient, effective DNA repair is impaired. Recently (2015), the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar for having mapped, at a molecular level, how cells repair damaged DNA and safeguard the genetic information. Their work has provided fundamental knowledge of how a living cell functions and is, for instance, used for the development of new cancer treatments. Thus, we believe that studying DNA repair in women without and with breast cancer (BC) will provide critical new information to help predict breast cancer risk and its risk of recurrence. The main scientific focus of the DNA repair laboratory is to identify phenotypic, epigenetic, and epidemiological factors that can be used as diagnostic or prognostic indicators for improving human health in relation to  cancer prevention and therapy. A second goal of the laboratory is to help provide training to our next generation of scientists and physicians. Undergraduate, graduate, medical, postdoctoral and fellows regularly participate in research rotations in our laboratory.

Our laboratory is funded through an SC1 grant from the MBRS SCORE Program (NIGMS, National Institutes of Health.

We have an overall interest in many aspects of DNA repair including its role in aging.

This overall goal, is being pursued through three aims:

 Aim 1: Examine the association between a low DNA repair capacity (DRC) and risk of breast cancer (BC) and its distant recurrence.

Aim 2: Study the association between hormone receptor status and low DRC.

Aim 3: Examine whether DNA repair capacity is partly regulated by epigenetic mechanisms.

Other cancer research projects are being developed by doctoral students using epidemiological, toxicological and psychological approaches. These include:

1) Genotoxicity assessment of selected essential oils in mammalian cell lines (Ph.D. thesis, Carmen Ortiz, Dr. J. Matta, mentor)

2) Psycho-oncology: Study of the experience of pain in Puerto Rican cancer patients and its relation to depressive symptoms (Ph.D. thesis, Psy.D. Program, Elizabeth Guadalupe, Dr. E. Castro, mentor, Dr. J. Matta, reader)