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

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