November 10, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 201—Studying DNA replication errors, and the role of BIPOC progressive prosecutors

So many families in Indiana and around the world have been impacted by cancer. With a new grant from the American Cancer Society, IUPUI associate professor Lata Balakrishnan is studying DNA replication errors and the role they play in cancer formation. She and colleagues are working to understand how the accuracy of a cell’s DNA is ensured when it is duplicated and how abnormalities in this process can lead to cancer, particularly pancreatic and blood cancers like leukemia. Balakrishnan says to make innovative therapeutic discoveries for cancer treatment, we must first understand specific biological processes within the cell and how dysregulation of these processes leads to disease. An adult human’s body is comprised of approximately 30 trillion cells, each carrying the same genetic message encoded in DNA. Each time a cell divides, it needs to accurately duplicate the genetic information. Balakrishnan says genetic information is constantly under attack from external and cellular sources that change the DNA’s genetic information. If changes are not caught and corrected by a process known as DNA repair, it will lead to disease. Balakrishnan and colleagues will study individual interactions between proteins and DNA, which she says will help provide a better understanding of how a mutation either in the DNA or the protein can lead to the progression of disease. The researchers will also test a class of cancer drugs to understand their impact on the efficiency of DNA replication and repair and understand the multiple factors that contribute to the reliability of the replication process. Balakrishnan says this knowledge can be harnessed to develop precision medicine targets for patients who have developed resistance to cancer treatments and can be used to improve targeted therapies for a subset of cancers.

In other news, IU criminal justice professor Tri Keah Henry is examining the role of progressive prosecutors who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color and their efforts to reform criminal justice. Henry, whose work is supported by IU’s Racial Justice Research Fund, says while prosecutors have increasingly been elected to both large and small jurisdictions on platforms that advocate for policies to reduce mass incarceration, there is little systematic information about the obstacles they face within their communities. To zero in on prosecutors as gatekeepers and powerful decision-makers within the criminal justice system, Henry will create a dataset of the more than 2,400 prosecutors across the country and gather data about the types of programs, initiatives and platforms progressive prosecutors advocate for during their election campaigns. Her goal is to understand how these prosecutors react when they encounter support or opposition from constituents, police organizations, media or other elected officials. Henry will also conduct interviews to identify the ways prosecutors who are Black, Indigenous or people of color react to the particular challenges they face when running for office or implementing criminal justice reforms based on racial stereotyping or skepticism about their ability to ensure public safety. While attention is paid to high-profile cases that may involve these prosecutors, Henry says less is known about cases in smaller jurisdictions across the country. She hopes to enrich our understanding of the prosecutorial policy setting and the role these progressive prosecutors play in criminal justice reform efforts.