Dr. Marcus S. Cooke, chair and professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at Florida International University’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work, has received more than $366,000 from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to identify the regions of the genome where damage persistence leads to cellular senescence.
[Photo: Dr. Marcus S. Cooke]
As the principal investigator, Dr. Cooke will probe the genome for regions which are more susceptible to oxidative stress-induced damage in order to analyze patterns and predict consequences for cellular dysfunction and senescence (a mechanism by which cells reach the end of their replicative life span, and prevent cancer cells from proliferating).
Exposure to environmental stressors — UV radiation, pollution, prescription drugs, tobacco, compounds in drinking water—can outwit the cell’s defenses and hurt its cellular components (e.g., DNA). This damage is linked to aging and diseases like cancer, but the precise mechanisms remain a mystery because damage is not spread evenly across the genome. Dr. Cooke thinks this has implications for disease although the current methods for studying DNA damage don’t relay this information.
Two ambiguities need clarification: how does the cell maintain the distribution of oxidative stress-induced DNA damage, and how does this fluctuate in time and space across the genome?
Dr. Cooke says these details are fundamental to illuminating how the cell targets regions for repair, and whether damage to particular genomic regions plays a role in triggering senescence. He and his co-investigator, Dr. Helen G. Tempest, assistant professor at FIU’s Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, are funded by NIH through 2020, and hope to conclude their research with a better understanding of the key regions of the genome involved in senescence, together with a robust technique for mapping damage across the entire genome.
In 2014, Dr. Cooke joined Stempel College after 18 years at University of Leicester, where he led one of the UK’s preeminent groups of researchers tackling oxidative stress — specifically DNA damage. A Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists, he has 119 publications in his catalogue, many of which are in the most respected journals in the field. He’s also a co-inventor on three patent applications and the recipient of two license agreements.