Scientific Research Project Title

Mechanisms maintaining ribosomal DNA integrity and their role in cancer

Research Institution

Danish Cancer Society

Research Center, Unit Genome Integrity, Nucleolar Stress and Disease Group


Molecular Biology


Phone: +45 35257796

Research leader

Dorthe Helena Payne-Larsen

PhD, Group Leader, born 1978

Project title

The role of ribosomal genes in cancer development

What is your project about? 

Cancer has a strong genetic component and the link between genetic alterations and predisposition to cancer is well established. To prevent alterations to our genetic material human cells have mechanisms that detect and repair such alterations and thereby counteracts the development of cancer. In this project we will specifically investigate how a particular region of the genome, namely the ribosomal genes, is protected against genetic alterations. The ribosomal genes are required for cell growth and in fast growing cancer cells their activity is increased making them more susceptible to alterations. Through studying the mechanisms underlying ribosomal gene maintenance we will gain insights into mechanisms protecting against cancer development and potentially these results will influence future clinical approaches. 

How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

I was fascinated by the complexity of cancer already during my first years at university and therefore went to UC Berkeley in California to specifically study cancer biology. My experiences in California was so inspiring that I have studied the mechanisms protecting our genome ever since, both here in Denmark in the Danish Cancer Society but also at Zurich University Hospital in Switzerland where I did by postdoctoral research. I started to investigate maintenance of the ribosomal genes in Switzerland and I am continuing this line of research as an independent group leader.

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

Disease research conducted in human cells will always be challenging due to the complexity of the system. We do however believe that it is worth the effort as there is so much we still need to learn about human diseases. We have established a novel cell-model in our laboratory that allow us to explore the molecular mechanisms that maintain the integrity of ribosomal genes. We will therefore provide novel insights into the mechanisms that protects this particular part of the genome and how they influence cancer development with potential implications for design of future innovative treatments. 

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term?

One in three people currently develop cancer and with an increasing average life expectancy the suffering and financial burden associated with cancer will continue to grow. There is therefore a need to minimize the burden associated with cancer. We therefore aim to generate valuable advances for translational and potentially therapeutic applications in oncology. Furthermore, other aging-related diseases are associated with ribosomal-gene defects and our results may therefore also be valuable to therapeutic strategies towards these diseases.

Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

The Sapere Aude DFF-Research Leader grant is very important to me and my newly established research group. The support from DFF will allow me to establish a new field of research in Denmark based on the research skills I acquired during my time in Switzerland. Furthermore, support from DFF allows me to gather a group of international as well as national experts to collaborate on the project. Finally these resources allows thorough investigations that can lead to ground-breaking results and thereby national as well as international recognition of the research group.

Background and personal life

I live together with my husband and our two small boys in Frederiksberg. Most of my free time is dedicated to the family – either in our holiday house or travelling. I enjoy following the seasons through nature and in the garden.

City of your current residence:

High school:
Albertslund Amts Gymnasium