About us

The Department of Molecular Genetics – The DNA damage response, cancer and aging

Roland KanaarThe Department of Molecular Genetics, headed by Roland Kanaar, focusses on how the integrity of the DNA that makes up our genomes is maintained by the DNA damage response, a process central to cancer and aging. This focus is timely as with increasing life expectancy cancer and aging-related diseases will  become a dominant problem for health, care and well-being. The Department has a history and strong world-wide reputation in understanding mechanisms of the DNA damage response from defined molecular level to the complex context of physiological processes in the body. Its fundamental studies of molecular mechanisms provide the basis for the rational design and development of novel targeted therapies and evidence-based sustainment of health.

Breakthrough discoveries

  • First molecular cloning of a chromosome translocation break point in cancer, providing insight in the molecular basis of cancer and enabling development of the first cancer type specific drug (Imatanib/Gleevec)
  • Molecular cloning of the first mammalian DNA repair gene and discovery of the very strong evolutionary conservation of DNA repair
  • Discovery of the connection between transcription and DNA repair and identification of human transcription syndromes
  • Discovery of the role of mammalian photolyase paralogs in the circadian/biological clock
  • Discovery of the connection between the DNA damage response
  • Identification of nutritional interventions for the treatment of human DNA repair syndromes exhibiting accelerated aging
  • Discovery of the pathways of random DNA integration in mammalian genomes

Our ambitions

  • Address the fundamental molecular mechanistic aspects of the DNA damage response, in its broadest sense, by pursuing complementary and interwoven approaches at both the molecular and cellular level
  • Provide a rational basis for improving existing approaches and developing entirely novel and innovative precision therapies for cancer and aging-related diseases
  • Bring to the clinic better criteria and tools for individual patient selection for precision therapy in the context of cancer
  • Develop reliable prognostic tools for treatment of cancer and aging-related diseases
  • Educate and train the next generation of multidisciplinary life scientists and healthcare professionals


Our approach

collaborationThe Department of Molecular Genetics of the Erasmus MC provides a a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary environments to tackle research questions from all available angles and, in the context of an academic medical center, collaborating with a wide range of clinical, preclinical and technical partners.

The Department should embody a ‘molecule-to-patient’ approach, which enable us to make globally seminal contributions and genuine breakthroughs in DNA repair, cancer and aging research. The clinical connections within the Erasmus MC naturally follow from the many different organs that are affected by cancer and aging. Research within the Department already takes advantage of existing expertise in techniques from biophysics, structural biology, biochemistry, cell biology, molecular biology, chronobiology, bioinformatics and animal genetics. Integrating information through this spectrum will have a synergistic effect on the ability of the Department of Molecular Genetics to fulfill its ambitions, which include the translation of fundamental insight on the DNA damage response to clinical applications and intervention strategies in the context of cancer and aging.

Research lines

The Department of Molecular Genetics focusses on the DNA damage response through three major integrated lines of research:

(1) Mechanisms of the DNA damage response
(2) The impact and application of the DNA damage response in cancer
(3) The impact and application of the DNA damage response in aging