A team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar (CMU-Q) has discovered a new area of research that could lead to more effective breast cancer treatment with fewer side effects.

Ihab Younis, assistant professor of biological sciences, and Ettaib El Marabti, a 2017 graduate of CMU-Q Biological Sciences Programme, authored a paper in Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences titled, ‘The cancer spliceome: Reprogramming of alternative splicing in cancer’.

CMU-Q Dean Michael Trick said that the research could have important implications in the treatment of breast cancer, as well as other types of cancers.

We are interested to see how these findings improve the therapeutic options for doctors and the quality of life for patients who are undergoing treatment.’

The paper outlines how a cellular mechanism called splicing is different in cancer cells than in normal cells. The mechanism occurs as the cell translates the genetic code into the proteins it needs to function. In normal cells, splicing acts like a switch to turn on certain protein production, but this does not work properly in cancer cells. Younis and El Marabti believe that targeting cells with the faulty splicing mechanism could be one way to kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact.

Younis said they do not suggest the use of this type of therapy to replace traditional therapies.

Rather, targeting the cells in this way would work in combination for more effective treatment with fewer unfavourable side effects.’

Pursuing Cancer Research with Passion

When he joined the CMU-Q faculty in 2015, Younis turned to his students to help him establish a research lab. El Marabti, who was then a third-year student, was given the task of analysing the sequence of the genetic codes of normal and cancerous cells. El Marabti soon learned to embrace and love the project.

The project continued and grew, and in 2017, El Marabti presented his findings at the Keystone Symposium on mRNA Processing and Human Disease in New Mexico, and in the CMU-Q research symposium, Meeting of the Minds, where he took the top prize.

After his graduation from CMU-Q in 2017, El Marabti began medical school at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar. The paper in Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences was completed while El Marabti was a first-year medical student.

El Marabti intends to incorporate research into his career as a physician.

I spent the summer doing research at Memorial Sloane Kettering, working in a similar area. I’m not sure which field I’d like to pursue when I finish medical school, perhaps oncology, but I know that research will be part of my career.’

CMU-Q offers undergraduate degree programmes in biological sciences, business administration, computational biology, computer science and information systems. Students are encouraged to participate in research to hone their skills in creative problem solving and scientific inquiry.

For updates and more information about CMU-Q, visit qatar.cmu.edu.