Silvia Balbo smiling

Silvia Balbo Awarded ISSNAF Hogan Lovells Award

Joy Archibald | October 26, 2016

Silvia Balbo, Assistant Professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, was recently awarded the 2016 Hogan Lovells Award for research in Medicine, Biosciences and Cognitive Science from the Italian Scientists and Scholars of North America Foundation (ISSNAF).  ISSNAF grants specific focus to early stage investigators working in North America whose commitment to their discipline of study is innovative, impactful and honors their country of origin.

Balbo was one of three finalists selected to present their work at the 2016 ISSNAF Annual Event at the Italian Embassy in Washington DC.  Her presentation was entitled DNA adductomics for the investigation of the exposome.”

The totality of exposures received by a person during life, from the prenatal period to death, has been recently identified with the term “exposome”. This concept was developed to underline the need for better techniques to provide a more accurate and comprehensive exposure assessment in human health studies and to better understand the etiology of complex diseases. The majority of these exposures can result directly or indirectly in DNA damage. Chemical modifications of DNA are known as DNA adducts. DNA adducts play a key role in chemical carcinogenesis, and their detection provides quantitative information on the dose of the exposure effectively reaching a cellular target. The pathogenic role of DNA adduction is supported by the evolution of powerful endogenous repair enzymes that can fix damaged DNA. Patients affected by Xeroderma Pigmentosum, for example, in which these enzymes are defective, are highly prone to cancer development. If the DNA adducts persist unrepaired, they can cause miscoding, resulting is a permanent mutation. If this mutation occurs in a critical region of an oncogene or a tumor suppressor gene, the result is loss of normal cellular growth control mechanisms and development of cancer. Beside exposure to exogenous chemicals, DNA adducts can result from metabolically generated reactive oxygen and nitrogen species, lipid peroxidation products, endogenous alkylating agents, estrogen and cholesterol metabolites and carbonyl reactive species. Thus DNA adducts provide information on the processes involved as direct or indirect result of an exposure. Despite the recognized role of DNA damage in key events leading to functional impairment of physiological processes and to carcinogenesis, methods to screen for specific DNA modifications are lacking. Consequently, screening methods for DNA adducts can provide a fingerprint of modifications from endogenous processes and exogenous exposures that will result in a dramatic improvement of the evaluation health outcomes where accurate individual exposure assessments are difficult. Currently, we are applying our method to characterize the DNA damage profile resulting from exposures to alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes and inflammation, to develop a method for genotoxic profiling of individuals exposed to complex environmental mixtures.Combining the concept of exposure characterization with the study of DNA damage, our research overarching goal is to develop rigorous tools to contribute to the investigation of the role of the exposome in cancer research through the characterization of its corresponding effects on DNA.

Silvia Balbo is an Assistant Professor of the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. She is part of the Division of Environmental Health Sciences and member of the Masonic Cancer Center. Her work focuses on studying mechanisms of chemical carcinogenesis, in particular those related to alcohol and tobacco exposures. She is developing more accurate methods to quantify the genotoxic effects deriving from these exposures and thus to measure the corresponding DNA damage. She is drawing upon her expertise in organic synthesis, analytical chemistry, cell culture and molecular epidemiology to develop integrated approaches aiming at quantifying DNA samples collected in clinical trials and molecular epidemiology studies.

Silvia Balbo smiling
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