Team DDC: DNA Damage in Cancer

Often termed as a disease of the genome, cancer is the result of random acquisition of mutations that activate oncogenes and inactivate tumor suppressors. Consequently, cellular processes including cell cycle control, transcription, apoptosis and DNA repair are affected, conferring incremental growth advantages to cells and fomenting tumorigenesis. Advances in next-generation DNA sequencing have recently enabled the detailed characterization of molecular processes leading to such DNA alterations in cancer. It became immediately clear that alterations in DNA repair pathways could predispose cells to accumulating DNA damage. On the other hand, several drugs used in cancer treatment indeed target DNA repair pathways. Although this seems like a paradox in cancer treatment, it also spawns new avenues for therapeutical options through the use of synthetic lethality in cancer cells.

Our group is interested in extending the list of drugs that take advantage of the crosstalk between DNA repair genes and developing educated designs of targeted therapies for individual tumor types. We combine cancer genomics, genetic screening approaches and pre-clinical studies in order to dissect synthetic lethality mechanisms of DNA repair in human cells that can also act together with radio or chemotherapy. To this end, we perform detailed genetic and molecular characterization of DNA repair proteins based on tumor-specific somatic or germline alterations in cancer and apply CRISPR-Cas9 based genetic screens. Together, our research aims to understand the sensitivity or resistance of tumors to various treatment regimens and how inducing defects in DNA repair machinery can be used to selectively target tumors.


  • Dr. Frank Zenke
    Head Cellular Pharmacology, Translational Innovation Platform Oncology at Merck (Industry mentor)
  • Dr. Amir Abdollahi
    Translational Radiation Oncology, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), Heidelberg (Academic mentor)
The research of this team is kindly sponsored by Merck.
The research of this team is kindly sponsored by Merck.


Our Team Members

Dr. Balca R. Mardin

Group Leader

Assessment of genotypic differences in DNA repair deficiencies

Previous work
  • 2012–2016: Postdoc with Dr. Jan O. Korbel, European Molecular Biology Laboratories (EMBL), Heidelberg, Germany
  • 2013–2015: Marie Curie IEF fellowship for postdoctoral work
  • 2008–2012: PhD with Prof. Elmar Schiebel (ZMBH), Ruprecht Karls University Heidelberg, Germany
  • 2005–2007: Master of Science in Molecular and Cellular Biology Program, Ruprecht-Karls-University, Heidelberg, Germany

Dr. Salvatore Benfatto

Postdoctoral Researcher

Previous work
  • 2016-2018: Postdoc with Prof. Massimo Delledonne, Functional Genomics Lab, University of Verona, Italy
  • 2014: Visiting scientist at the Biocomputing Lab of Prof. Anna Tramontano, University “Sapienza” of Rome, Italy
  • 2013–2016: PhD with Prof. Giuseppe Teti, University of Messina, Italy
  • 2009-2012: Master of Science in Biology, University of Messina, Italy

Dr. Francesca R. Dejure

Postdoctoral Researcher

Amino acid transport in cancer

Previous work
  • 2011-2017: PhD student with Prof. Dr. Martin Eilers, University of Würzburg, Germany, Research topic: Role of the transcription factor MYC as a metabolic-stress sensor in cancer
  • 2011-2014: Doctoral Scholarship of the Graduate School of Life Science (GSLS), University of Würzburg, Germany
  • 2008-2010: Master of Science in Medical Biotechnologies and Molecular Medicine, University of Bari, Italy

Dr. Katrin Rein

Postdoctoral Researcher

Genome wide synthetic lethality screens

Previous work
  • 2009–2015: PhD research and thesis with Dr. Travis H. Stracker, Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Barcelona, Spain
  • 2013: Scientific stay at Dr. Lorraine Symington group, Columbia University, New York City, USA
  • 2008–2009: Internship at Dr. Marco Milan group, Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Barcelona, Spain
  • 2005–2008: Master of Science research and thesis with Dr. Andres Valkna, Tallinn University of Technology, Tallinn, Estonia

Dr. Özdemirhan Serçin

Postdoctoral Researcher

Targeted screens for investigating vulnerabilities of DNA repair deficiencies

Previous work
  • 2012–2015: Postdoctoral research fellow in the laboratory of Prof. Dr. Cedric Blanpain, IRIBHM, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
  • 2006–2011: PhD Student and research assistant in the laboratory of Prof. Dr. Aziz Sancar, Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC, USA

Irina Ivanova

Research Associate

Cell-based models for DNA repair deficiencies

Previous work
  • 2012–2015: Master of Science in Molecular Biology, University of Vienna, Austria
  • 2007–2011: Bachelor of Science in Biotechnology, Sofia University “St Kliment Ohridski”, Bulgaria

Nadja Ballin

Research Assistant

Previous work
  • 2017-2018: Research Associate, Institute of Human Genetics, University Medical Center Freiburg, Germany
  • 2013-2016: Master of Science in Molecular Medicine, University of Freiburg, Germany
  • 2010-2013: Bachelor of Science in Molecular Medicine, University of Freiburg, Germany

Paris Roidos

PhD Student

Development of methods for tracing DNA repair status and identifying repair pathways

Previous work
  • 2014–2016: Research assistant at Malformation genetics laboratory at Karolinska Institute, Stockholm and at the Musculoskeletal Research Centre at The University of Manchester, UK
  • 2012–2014: Master of Science Industrial Biotechnology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden
  • 2006–2011: Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Biological application, University of Ioannina, Greece

Joachim Butzer


Previous work
  • 2017-present: Master of Science in Molecular and Cellular Biology, Ruprecht-Karls-University, Heidelberg, Germany
  • 2014-2017: Bachelor of Science in Biology, Ruprecht-Karls-University, Heidelberg, Germany

Jayaprakash Srinivasan


Previous work
  • 2016-present: Master of Science in Molecular Biosciences, Ruprecht-Karls-University, Heidelberg, Germany
  • 2012-2016: Bachelor of Technology in Biotechnology, Anna University, Chennai, India

Ekaterina Stepanova

Master‘s Thesis Student

Previous work
  • 2017-present: Master of Science in Bioinformatics, University of Saarland, Saarbrücken, Germany
  • 2015-2017: Bioinformatician, Science for Life Laboratory, Stockholm, Sweden
  • 2011-2015: Software/Web Developer, different Software Companies in Germany and Russia
  • 2007-2012: Bachelor of Science in Computer Science, National Research Tomsk State University, Tomsk, Russia