Dr Richard Chahwan

Published on: 20 June 2014

Dr Chahwan will be talking about the DNA repair signals at this year's Health and medical research showcase.

How do cells generally safeguard their genetic code? And why do immune B cells contradict that general rule by deliberately mutating part of that code? Dr Richard Chahwan’s research seeks to understand the balance between protecting our genetic material to prevent diseases such as cancer and the need to generate immune diversity to protect us from microbial infections.

Richard will be speaking about his research at this year’s medical poster showcase which takes place on 27 June and will give researchers a chance to see our cutting edge medical research.

What is your current research about?

I’m studying the response of different types of cells following damage to their DNA; one type of cells, immune B cells, are particularly interesting. Immune B cells produce a big library of antibodies - proteins that can specifically neutralise harmful toxins and microbes. B cells are peculiar because they have to both preserve their DNA – which contains all the information for the cell – and mutate a certain region of their genome to create diversity in antibodies which can fight infection.

Immune B cells interest me because they perform two opposing functions at the same time – preserving and mutating their genome. The wider implications of studying these functions are vast in terms of clinical relevance, therapeutic potentials and basic science perspectives.

How can a member of the public understand the impact of your research?

The public might be aware of antibodies in terms of proteins that protect us from infections. However, antibodies are now extensively used to diagnose different diseases and infections. More recently they are being increasingly used in the treatment of various disorders such as cancer autoimmunity, with great effect.

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of DNA as the genetic code for life.

Dr Richard Chahwan. Bioscience.

If you weren’t a researcher, what would you have liked to be?

I’m not entirely sure but it would probably still be something related to bio-medicine.

I’ve always been intrigued by the field of astronomy too. If I was any good at it I would have liked to think I had a chance at it.

What would you like to achieve in your career?

I’d like to understand the basic mechanisms of how DNA repair proteins help protect our genetic code, how they help generate antibody diversity and how their misregulation could lead to various diseases - especially cancer, immunodeficiency and autoimmune diseases.

I’d also like to look at how we can harness the information we are generating, so we can mimic the antibodies we see in nature. Ideally I’d like to be able to reproduce them in the lab, efficiently and fast, for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes.

How has your background helped shape your research?

I’ve always been fascinated by the power of DNA as the genetic code for life. Very early on in my career I was fortunate enough to contribute to the discovery of novel DNA repair factors and that has boosted my intrigue in the DNA damage response – how our cells respond whenever they encounter damage.

DNA damage is destructive for all our cells but in very few cases, such as B cells, DNA damage can be constructive. In some ways B cells are the exception that help us understand the rule.

You’ll be speaking at the medical showcase, tell me more what your talk will be about.

I will be talking about my current work including elaborations on many of the things we’ve just been discussing. I will be focusing, in particular, on two DNA repair signals that help our bodies develop antibody immunity and what happens when these DNA repair signals are misregulated.

Related links

» Richard Chahwan's Laboratory

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