California Institute of Technology

Pasadena, California
John G. Kirkwood and Arthur A. Noyes Professor in the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

Research

Many cancers arise as a result of damage to DNA that persists and changes the functioning of the cell. Some cancers are associated with a deficiency in the ability of the cell to find and repair such damage. Dr. Jacqueline Barton’s research seeks to understand fundamentally how this damage arises, how regions of the genome may be protected from such damage, and how such damage is found and repaired.

Dr. Barton’s explored biological roles for oxidative damage to DNA in the context of DNA damage and repair. In one important study, she explored how oxidative stress affects the ability of tumor suppressor protein, p53, to bind to different DNA segments that it controls to turn on or off other genes. The protein p53, is considered the “guardian” of the cell and mutations in p53 are well known to be associated with cancer. These results point to a role for DNA-oxidative stress mediated charge transport as a first signal for oxidative stress directing p53 to different promoters depending upon cellular stresses.

Her lab has increased our understanding of how DNA damage may activate a wide range of signals within the cell and how that damage is detected and repaired. Remarkably, her results demonstrated that it appears that DNA-mediated charge transport, can be the first step in activating either cell death or DNA repair. Her data allow a much clearer understanding of the first molecular steps in cancerous transformation and likely also provide a path to early cancer diagnosis.

Bio

Dr. Jacqueline K. Barton received her B.A. from Barnard College and her Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry at Columbia University. She then conducted postdoctoral work at Bell Laboratories and Yale University. Dr. Barton held professorships at Hunter College, City University of New York and Columbia University.

Dr. Barton joined the faculty at Caltech in 1989. From 1997 to 2016 she held the Arthur and Marion Hanisch Memorial Professorship. From 2009 to 2019 she served as the Norman Davidson Leadership Chair.   She is the John G. Kirkwood and Arthur A. Noyes Professor in the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering. Through this research, Barton has trained more than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral students, with about half in academic positions.

Dr. Barton has received numerous awards including:  the Alan T. Waterman Award of the National Science Foundation, the Weizmann Women & Science Award, the ACS Gibbs Medal, and the National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Science to name a few. She was a fellow of the Sloan Foundation, a Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar, and an NSF Presidential Young Investigator.

She is a recipient of a prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and she is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine, along with an honorary fellowship in the Royal Society of Chemistry. She has also served the chemical community through her participation in ACS, government and industrial boards. In October 2011, Dr. Barton received the 2010 National Medal of Science from President Obama.

Areas of Focus

Cancer Types

Years of NFCR Funding

1985-2007

Related Content

NFCR In the News: Addressing Deadly Brain Cancer, GBM

Detecting Skin Cancer with Artificial Intelligence and Other Game-Changing Technologies in Cancer

Cases of skin cancer are skyrocketing. In the past three decades, more people have been diagnosed with some form of skin cancer than all other cancers combined. Because of this, researchers worldwide have been fascinated with figuring out how to better detect and treat skin cancer. The fascination has launched some of the world’s brightest scientists into innovation overdrive. The result? Artificial Intelligence to detect skin cancer.  Artificial Intelligence and Cancer Artificial Intelligence (AI) involves teaching technology to do tasks previously done by humans. It can be an Alexa device telling a joke, Google Home turning the lights on or off, or something more complex like analyzing medical data. Typically, information like X-Rays or CT scans would be read, reviewed, and analyzed by medical teams to identify abnormalities. Today, AI is used to quickly translate an image into data, compare that data against a more extensive set of normal and abnormal images, and produce a quantitative assessment of potential abnormalities. This method not only reduces the chance of human error but speeds up the process tenfold. Fewer errors and quicker diagnoses mean a far better chance of treating cancer in an early stage.  Innovative Cancer Technologies While the use of AI feels exceptionally futuristic, innovative technology has been emerging from the cancer field for years. In 2017, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a bright pink liquid known as 5-ALA for brain cancer treatment. This drink, often referred to as ‘pink drink,’ is a surgical intervention drug given to brain cancer patients ahead of their surgeries. The pink drink makes brain tumor cells illuminate a hot pink color under fluorescent light when paired with the right technology.  Previous treatment for brain cancer was resection of the tumor. However, physicians alone were historically insufficient or incompletely identified tumor tissue during surgery, which led to recurrence and the abysmal survival rate of 1-2 years on average. Aided by the brilliant pink hues induced by 5-ALA, doctors can now remove and identify significantly more of the tumor.  In 2020, an NFCR funded team of renowned researchers explored how technology could improve treatment outcomes for patients with T-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Before this study, professionals agreed that a molecule called fenretinide would, in theory, be able to treat non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. However, it was seemingly impossible to deliver this molecule to cancer cells because it is poorly soluble in water. The NFCR-funded research team developed a unique delivery system to solve this issue, thus improving outcomes for lymphoma patients.  Accelerating Promising Cancer Research It is discoveries like these launch medical professionals forward towards finding a cure for cancers. NFCR proudly presents the Salisbury Award Competition, which helps oncology startups accelerate their findings to benefit the cancer community. This program offers a unique opportunity for other promising research deemed high-risk, high-impact ideas, a core value of NFCR’s.  NFCR will host the fourth Salisbury Award Competition later this year, with applications opening in March to academic laboratories advancing promising experimental cancer therapeutic, diagnostic, detection, and vaccine innovations.  Learn more about the Salisbury Award or apply to the program here.   Additional Reads You May Enjoy:  Salisbury Award: Providing […]

The World’s First Oncolytic Virus Drug was Launched to Treat Malignant Brain Tumor GBM

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is the most aggressive malignant brain tumor in adults, with a median survival of only about ten months. Unlike low-grade gliomas (grades I and II), which grow slowly, high-grade gliomas (grades III and IV) grow much faster and can spread to other parts of the brain, resulting in a patient’s death. GBM is the highest grade brain tumor (grade IV) with a very poor prognosis. The standard treatment for GBM includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. However, these limited treatment approaches cannot control the tumor progress, and the rate of brain tumor recurrence is high, resulting in low overall survival (OS) in most patients.   Oncolytic Virus Therapy  Oncolytic virus therapy represents a new promising cancer immunotherapy approach that utilizes genetically modified viruses to infect and kill cancer cells. The viruses are modified to selectively infect and lyse cancer cells through genetic engineering processes while leaving normal cells unharmed. The genetic modification of the viruses also grants them the ability to produce immune-boosting molecules or initiate anti-cancer immunity through multiple mechanisms of the patient’s own immune system.  The First Oncolytic Virus Therapy for GBM  Recently, the world’s first oncolytic virus-based immunotherapy (Teserpaturev) was approved in Japan. Teserpaturev offers a new option for treating GBM and brings new hope to thousands of patients suffering from this malignant brain tumor.  Teserpaturev is a genetically engineered herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). The uniqueness of this new oncolytic virus-based drug is that it not only has strong killing power to brain tumor cells that the virus entered into, but it is also able to kill the tumor cells that have spread to other parts of the brain. This process happens by inducing systemic antitumor immunity of a patient’s own immune system.  In June 2021, Teserpaturev received a conditional and time-limited marketing approval in Japan to treat malignant glioma based on a Japanese phase 2 clinical trial in patients with GBM. The clinical trial results showed that 92% of patients who received Teserpaturev immunotherapy treatment were still alive after one year. This percent is considerably higher than the typical 15% one-year survival rate in this group of patients receiving standard late-stage brain tumor treatments.  Bottom Line Because Teserpaturev is currently under conditional and time-limited marketing approval in Japan, this novel immunotherapy for GBM is only available at specified hospitals in Japan. We hope international multi-center clinical trials on this innovative drug can take place in the near future. Hopefully, the novel therapy can be made available to GBM patients around the world.  Stay up-to-date with the latest information on new drug development. Receive our monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring stories of inspiration, support resources, cancer prevention tips, and more; sign up here.  Additional Reads You May Also Enjoy: Treating Brain Cancer: What You Need to Know New Brain Scan Technology Can Improve Tumor Removal GBM AGILE – Changing the Way We Fight Brain Cancer References Daiichi Sankyo introduces Delytact in Japan to treat malignant glioma. com, November 2, 2021.  http://www.pharmabiz.com/NewsDetails.aspx?aid=143694&sid=2 First launch for Daiichi Sankyo’s oncolytic virus Delytact in Japan. Pharmaphorum, November 1, 2021.  https://pharmaphorum.com/news/first-launch-for-daiichi-sankyos-oncolytic-virus-delytact-in-japan/