The focus of doctoral student Stefan Lenz’ (BSc ’13) graduate research is the underlying chemical reactions involved in the function of DNA repair enzymes. DNA is damaged approximately 60,000 times a day per cell, and these “powerhouse” enzymes are constantly repairing this damage. However, the malfunctioning of these enzymes has been implicated in the growth of cancer tissue. So, through an understanding of the enzymes chemical processes, biochemists like Stefan can explore avenues of therapy and treatment for cancer.

Under the supervision of Professor Stacey Wetmore, Stefan utilizes computational modelling techniques built from experimental data on the DNA repair enzymes to examine atomic-level details on the enzymatic systems. Due to the high speed that chemical reactions occur at, these models produce snapshots of the different stages in a chemical reaction to provide accurate models of the processes involved in the enzymatic reactions involved in DNA repair.

Stefan explains that DNA repair enzymes have a broad substrate specificity, meaning the enzyme is not limited to working on a specific entity, but a broad spectrum or family of substrates. Interestingly, his research has determined that “these enzymes may have other important cellular roles besides DNA repair, which makes understanding how they work even that much more important.”

This is especially true in cases where these enzymes malfunction which can lead to the growth of cancerous tissue. Additionally, it has been shown that these DNA repairing enzymes can actively mitigate the effects of cancer treatment that damage the DNA in tumor cells. This is why contributing to the broader understanding of the function of these enzyme powerhouses is the goal of biochemists like Stefan. Understanding of the chemical processes and function of DNA repair enzymes can lead to the development of new and effective treatments for cancer patients.