Linking the pieces together
Meet Dr. Jutta Steinberger, a young scientist who benefitted from a donor’s generosity and whose research could benefit patients
Beginning a post-doctoral fellowship at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre (GCRC) was a return to Dr. Jutta Steinberger’s roots. Though she did her graduate studies in Vienna in structural biology, she wanted to broaden her scientific perspective while working a field that could impact people’s health. At the GCRC, she has the resources she needs to do just that as a recipient of a donor-supported GCRC award.
Steinberger is the latest recipient of the Karassik Family Foundation Oncology Postdoctoral Fellowship, which helped her begin her latest project on genetic regulation. “I see it as a privilege that I am able to do science,” Steinberger said. “As a scientist, you always need funding from government or private sources. We depend on it,” she noted.
Scientists at the GCRC attack cancer at the most basic level, even at the level of individual proteins and genes. Human cells have many different proteins in them, which tell a cell when to grow, divide or die.
The proteins we have in our cells are encoded in our genes. A cellular “machine” called a ribosome reads our genetic code and builds proteins, once our genes have been transcribed into a format the ribosome can understand. The process is tightly regulated, and a number of factors help guide the ribsomones to the right place. That’s where Steinberger has focused her research.
Steinberger is studying lncRNA—long strands of nucleotides that do not code for proteins. LncRNAs may be able to attach to our genes and recruit ribosomes, flagging them down and showing them where they need to work. This could possibly increase protein synthesis. If scientists like Steinberger had a better understanding of how these RNA molecules work, they could possibly find new ways to treat cancer.
The first studies about the stimulatory effect of lncRNAs were published only a few years ago, but Steinberger hopes that she can add to the literature later this year,thanks to her hard work and the support she received for her research from the Karassik family.
The atmosphere of the centre itself has also inspired her and fostered valuable collaborations. “All the principal investigators here are very forward-thinking. They’re up on the latest research and research targets,” Steinberger noted. “The attitude is, ‘Okay, if we want to do this experiment and we don’t have the equipment, let’s raise some money or find some collaborators. Let’s get it done.'”