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MDC Researcher Zsuzsanna Izsvák Receives Advanced European Research Grant

February 16, 2012

Worth EUR 1.94 million

Dr. Zsuzsanna Izsvák, research group leader at the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch, has been named recipient of a European Research Council (ERC Advanced) grant worth EUR 1.94 million for her research on “jumping genes” (transposons). With the aid of the ERC grant, in the next five years she will focus on investigating how mobile DNA elements (transposons) influence the pathogenesis of cancer and other diseases in the human genome. Altogether, nine MDC researchers, including Dr. Izsvák, have received grants of more than one million euros from the ERC.

About half of the human genome consists of transposon-derived sequences. Active transposons can jump to various sites of the DNA, insert themselves into the genome of the host and continue to spread in this way. Due to this characteristic, transposons are also called “jumping genes”.

As a consequence of mutations, in the course of time most of these “jumping genes” in the human genome have lost their mobility; only a few are still active. These remnants of transposons were long considered to be without any function. However, latest studies have shown that transposons are by no means “junk DNA”, but rather can influence the regulation of genes.

“The human genome is much more complex than previously assumed. In many processes in the body and also in disease, transposons may be the decisive factor,” Dr. Izsvák said. “That is why we need to take a closer look at transposons and their influence.”

With the ERC grant, Dr. Izsvák wants to explore the influence of transposons under stress conditions that are triggered by environmental influences, such as toxins or heavy metals, and to understand the association between transposon-derived regulatory sequences and human diseases. Furthermore, together with her team, Dr. Izsvák wants to advance the use of artificially produced transposons for gene therapy.

Dr. Izsvák has worked for over twenty years in transposon research. After several years of research at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis/USA and at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam, the Hungarian researcher joined the MDC in Berlin-Buch in 1999. She has headed the research group “Mobile DNA” since 2004. At an award ceremony in Stockholm that same year she received the European Young Investigator Award (EURYI), endowed with approximately one million euros, for her research on mobile genetic elements.

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