Ahmed Emam joined the MS program at the MD Anderson UTHealth Houston Graduate School in the hopes of learning and conducting cancer research in the Texas Medical Center. He paired with Bin Wang, PhD, and her lab to contribute to their research into genomic instability and cancer. Emam’s research is published in the July 2022 issue of Nature Cell Biology.
Emam’s paper titled “Stalled replication fork protection limits cGAS–STING and P-body-dependent innate immune signaling,” examines genomic instability as a characteristic commonly found in most cancer cells.
“Genomic instability is associated with many human diseases, including cancers,” explains Emam. “To minimize genomic instability during DNA replication, a structure known as the replication fork coordinates the unwinding and repair of old and new DNA. Stalls at the fork need to be protected from DNA degradation to prevent excess DNA fragments from accumulating outside the nucleus, triggering an inflammatory response.”
To investigate the link between genomic instability and inflammation-related diseases and cancer, Emam and his peers generated cells without Abro1 and FANCD2, two proteins previously shown to be involved in fork protection from excessive degradation by DNA2 nuclease. The team found that loss of these proteins led to degradation of the stalled replication fork accumulating cytosolic single-stranded ribosomal DNA, which is detected by the cGAS protein to trigger an innate immune response that is dependent on DNA2 nuclease. Interestingly, this also led to an increase in P-bodies — granules that form in response to replication stress — showing that Abro1 and FANCD2 normally inhibit their production.
Receiving the news that his paper had been accepted by Nature Cell Biology was an important moment in Emam’s academic journey. “In that instant, I felt a sense of accomplishment, a thirst for more, and an endorsement that hard work pays off. I felt committed to my paper and myself, and I was even more appreciative to Bin for her mentorship.”
Before beginning his journey at the Graduate School, Emam worked at the National Cancer Institute of Egypt, and was encouraged by peers to pursue a continued education at MD Anderson Cancer Center—one of the premier cancer treatment centers in the world. Emam was accepted at the GSBS and quickly found that he was surrounded by faculty, staff, and students who wanted to help him achieve his aspirations. “The students here feel secure because we have the GSBS as our backbone,” says Emam. “The GSBS staff and faculty make it a point to support each one of their students both emotionally and academically.” After successfully completing his MS at the Graduate School, Emam was accepted into the Genetics & Epigenetics PhD program at the GSBS to continue his research and academic goals. Emam dreams of one day having a cancer research lab of his own, and would love to provide the type of mentorship he receives at the GSBS to his own mentees, continuing the cycle for future generations of scientists.
“I want to thank my advisor, Bin Wang, PhD, for making this project possible. I am extremely grateful for her support and guidance. Additionally, I want to thank my advisory committee members for their valuable feedback and support: Pierre McCrea, PhD, Richard Behringer, PhD, Kevin McBride, PhD, and Zhiqiang Zhang, PhD. I consider myself fortunate to have Jichao Chen, PhD, Francesca Cole, PhD, and Elisabeth Lindheim on my academic journey, as their support in the G&E program was extraordinary. I am beyond grateful for the amazing lab environment I was in: Erin, Ella, Longqiang, Xiao, and Shichang you made this project possible! I appreciate being your lab mate; you taught me a lot.”