UAMS’s Justin Leung, Ph.D., Receives $792,000 American Cancer Society Grant to Study DNA Repair Mechanisms

By Spencer Watson

“Understanding the molecular processes of DNA repair can help both better diagnose cancer and to progress treatment,” said Leung, an assistant professor in the UAMS College of Medicine Department of Radiation Oncology.

The grant will investigate how signaling molecules on chromatin interact with proteins that repair broken DNA during replication.

“Our DNA encounters damage every day from metabolic byproducts, toxic chemicals and ultraviolet radiation in sunlight. Unrepaired DNA damage can lead to accumulation of mutations, which can cause cancer,” Leung explained. “Our lab aims to understand how cells precisely repair DNA damage at the right place and right time. We study how the DNA damage response is initiated and the mechanism by which DNA repair proteins are brought to the DNA breaks.”

The Research Scholar grant specifically will investigate the regulatory mechanism between a signal on newly replicated DNA and how it brings a specific chromatin modifying enzyme to direct repairs at the site of DNA break at the right time by altering the damaged DNA and proteins landscape.

The new grant follows a $1.9 million funding award in September 2020 from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences supporting Leung’s roadmap project, “Deciphering the Chromatin-based DNA Damage Response Pathway.”

UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and eight institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute, Institute for Digital Health & Innovation and the Institute for Community Health Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS’ clinical enterprise. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 3,275 students, 890 medical residents and fellows, and five dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 12,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children’s, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube or Instagram.