Award

Lavrsen finds endless
possibilities in PTMs

Meet a JBC/Tabor award winner
Nivedita Hegdekar
February 03, 2020

When she was an undergraduate at the University of Copenhagen, Kirstine Lavrsen became fascinated by the impact of posttranslational modifications, or PTMs, on cellular function. She was working with Hans Wandall’s group at the university’s glycomics center, researching the role of glycosylation in cancer and how cancer-associated changes in O-glycans could be used to target solid tumors.

The ASBMB annual meeting at EB has been canceled. This decision comes as COVID-19 spreads, institutions restrict travel and jurisdictions declare states of emergency. Read the letter sent to attendees.
Lavrsen-Kirstine-300x384.jpg
Kirstine Lavrsen is a postdoctoral researcher in Marin Barisic's lab at the Danish Cancer Society.

“So many protein glycosylations are modified in cancer,” she said. “The research possibilities were endless.” 

A native of Denmark, Lavrsen earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in molecular biomedicine from the University of Copenhagen. Pursuing a Ph.D. in cellular and genetic medicine seemed like the natural and best next step, she said, and she continued her doctoral research in Wandall’s laboratory.

For her Ph.D., Lavrsen researched the role of O-glycosylation in colorectal carcinogenesis. She identified an important role for a PTM enzyme, GalNAc-T6, in conversion of normal colon tissue into cancerous tissue through its ability to O-glycosylate a small subset of proteins. She then used antibodies targeting cancer-specific O-glycans to distinguish between cancerous and normal tissue and to induce cancer-specific cell death.

“Recent findings show that PTMs have been playing a bigger role in cancer development than earlier thought,” Lavrsen said. She hopes that further understanding of PTMs in cancer cells will lead to improved early diagnostic tools, targeted drugs and immunotherapies.

PTMs continue to fascinate Lavrsen. She now works as a postdoctoral researcher in Marin Barisic’s lab at the Danish Cancer Society, investigating the role of another PTM, detyrosination of tubulin, during cancer development.

Lavrsen said she enjoys the analytic and creative blend of research work. When not in the lab, she enjoys spending time with her young children. 
This time is an exciting phase in cancer research, she said, and she is optimistic about where the research will take her next.

Sugar-adding enzyme makes colonic cells cancerous

Epithelial cancers are characterized by aberrant expression of O-glycans sugar molecules in cancerous cells. Addition of these sugar molecules is mediated by a post-translational modification — O-glycosylation — through a large family of GalNAc transferases, or GalNAc-Ts.

Analyzing transcriptomic and immunohistochemistry data, Hans Wandall’s research group found that GalNAc-T6 was the only GalNAc-T that was highly expressed in colon cancer and was absent from healthy colon tissue. To investigate the specific role of GalNAc-T6 in the development of colon cancer, the group used CRISPR/Cas9 to develop isogenic colon cancer cell lines with a knockout/rescue system for GALNT6. GalNAc-T6 expression was associated with a cancerlike dysplastic growth pattern, whereas GALNT6 knockout cells showed a more normal differentiation and phenotype. Mass spectroscopy identified that GalNAc-T6 targeted a subset of proteins involved in cell-cell adhesion.

This study highlights the importance of a post-translational modification in cancer development, and its publication in the Journal of Biological Chemistry earned Kirstine Lavrsen a JBC Herbert Tabor Early Career Investigator Award. Lavrsen said she is excited and humbled to receive the award and looks forward to presenting her talk at the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology annual meeting in April.

Nivedita Hegdekar

Nivedita Hegdekar is a graduate student at the University of Maryland working toward a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology and an M.S. in patent law.

Join the ASBMB Today mailing list

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.

Latest in People

People highlights or most popular articles

Leadership on the cutting edge
Profile

Leadership on the cutting edge

July 06, 2020

Toni Antalis, the ASBMB’s new president, talks about reopening her lab after COVID-19 closures, how she’s repurposing anthrax toxins to fight cancer and the most interesting book she has read lately.

Enyenihi wins Emory chemistry award; Miesenböck shares Shaw Prize
Member News

Enyenihi wins Emory chemistry award; Miesenböck shares Shaw Prize

July 06, 2020

Awards, promotions, milestones and more. Find out what's going on in the lives of ASBMB members.

A virtual high school science fair — from the judges’ perspective
Student Chapters

A virtual high school science fair — from the judges’ perspective

June 29, 2020

When the pandemic forces a New Jersey science fair to go digital, judges and student competitors have to learn a whole new way of presenting research.

Koleske appointed Ensign professor; remembering Zena Werb
Member News

Koleske appointed Ensign professor; remembering Zena Werb

June 29, 2020

Promotions, honors, milestones and more. Find out what's going on in the lives of ASBMB members.

ASBMB welcomes new members
Member News

ASBMB welcomes new members

June 22, 2020

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology welcomes new members who joined in March.

Out now
Profile

Out now

June 22, 2020

Cell biologist Beverley Rabbitts shares insights on life, love, sexuality, and reinvention