She wears cowboy boots and her mobile phone makes the sound of a howling wolf when it rings, suggesting she is something of an adventurer. And Linda Malkas, Ph.D., does spend much of her time exploring new frontiers — in the cell.
|Linda Malkas (Photo by p.cunningham)|
Malkas joined City of Hope on May 9 as a professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. She also serves as the comprehensive cancer center’s associate director for basic research and co-leader of the new Molecular Oncology Program.
In her associate director role, Malkas will work with other cancer center leaders to communicate the needs of the basic science researchers for expanded or new resources and foster interdepartmental and interdisciplinary interactions to support collaborative laboratory research throughout the institution. As program co-leader, she will foster and facilitate collaborative research efforts within the center’s Molecular Oncology Program.
“We’re extremely pleased to welcome Dr. Malkas as an outstanding scientist and a highly-respected leader,” said Michael A. Friedman, M.D., president, chief executive officer and holder of the Irell & Manella Cancer Center Director’s Distinguished Chair. “Her extensive experience will enhance the cancer center’s strong leadership team and add valuable new perspective in support of the center’s goals.”
In her own research, Malkas focuses on the machinery that copies DNA and how that machinery contributes to cancer-causing mutations.
As cells grow and divide, they must construct complete and accurate copies of their DNA. Errors, or mutations, made during copying can lead to diseases such as cancer.
Malkas’ work centers on the DNA synthesome, which comprises a cluster of proteins that read a cell’s original DNA and use it as a template to create new copies of DNA before the cell divides.
Knowing that mutations are a chief cause of cancer, Malkas reasoned that the DNA synthesome might play an important role in the disease, so she isolated the synthesome from breast cancer cells and normal breast cells, then compared the two.
She found differences in a key protein component of the synthesome called proliferating cell nuclear antigen, or PCNA. The changes cause the synthesome to make errors while copying DNA, which likely leads to cancer.
Equally important, the faulty DNA synthesome continues to make errors in cancer cells.
“It’s like a sewing machine that puts in the wrong stitch as it goes along,” she said. “Where that stitch gets put in can make all the difference. From a cancer cell’s perspective, it might give it a growth advantage, making the tumor stronger.”
Malkas’ work marks the first time anyone has found specific differences in the DNA synthesome between breast cancer cells and normal breast cells.
It also creates new possibilities for cancer therapy.
“Now we have a chance to search for agents that inhibit proteins uniquely expressed by breast cancer cells, as opposed to proteins that are simply overexpressed in cancer,” she said.
Before joining City of Hope, Malkas was professor of medicine, professor of surgery, adjunct professor of pharmacology and toxicology, and co-founder and co-leader of the Breast Cancer Program at Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center. She was named the university’s first Vera Bradley Chair for Oncology in 2002.
She completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the Worchester Foundation for Experimental Biology in Massachusetts after obtaining her Doctor of Philosophy degree in biochemistry from the City University of New York.