Aaron Goodarzi, PhD

PhD in Protein Biochemistry, University of Calgary, Canada
Postdoctorate in Radiation Biology, University of Sussex, UK
Currently: Director of the Robson DNA Science Centre, University of Calgary
Currently: Scientific Chair of the Evict Radon National Study, Canada

Dr. Aaron Goodarzi

Areas of Research

Environmental Cancer Science, DNA repair, Radiation Biology, Chromatin Dynamics, Transdisciplinary Science, Population Health
In our lab, we study how ionizing radiation (such as alpha particles from radon gas) impact DNA, health, and risk of cancer. The human genome is subject to an extraordinary burden of oxidative DNA damage throughout life, driving cancer formation and, for genetically susceptible individuals, numerous other debilitating diseases particularly of the brain and central nervous system. Our research aims at understanding and developing solutions to human pathologies caused by radiation induced DNA damage, focusing on developing knowledge required to develop impactful interventions to reduce the burden of high lethality cancer in the population. Our team operates using a transdisciplinary approach to problem solving, often integrating cell and molecular biological methods with epidemiology, chemistry, atomic physics as well as behavioural, earth and building sciences, with a strong emphasis on science communication and community impact.
Project 1 - Transdisciplinary approaches to environmental cancer prevention and early detection
This project involves merging multiple disciplines to make an impact in reducing the future burden of environmental cancers in Canada, including lung cancers caused by radon gas, air pollutants, and heavy metals in our air and water. Radiobiology is leveraged together with atomic physics approaches in order to develop novel methods of assessing lifetime exposure to radon gas that can be implemented within health care systems as a new criteria for cancer screening. This project will involve epidemiological approaches to assessing radiation exposure across diverse populations of people, collecting and processing biological samples, mass spectrometry to measure radionuclides, and statistical approaches to relative risk (of cancer) calculation. Students will gain skills in: radiation sciences, epidemiology, multivariate modelling, mass spectrometry, risk assessment, and health system implementation.
Project 2 - Understanding alpha particle radiation-induced DNA damage repair
This project is about understanding how repetitive exposure to alpha particle radiation causes DNA mutations in our bodies that increase risk of cancer. Students working on this project will use genetic models systems (including gene-edited human cell lines and yeast) to identify molecular pathways that respond to the formation of the clustered, complex DNA damage caused by alpha particle radiation. The overall goals of this work are to (1) identify and characterize the gene mutation signatures that are caused by alpha irradiation (from radon gas), (2) to correlate in vitro mutation signatures to those found in human lung cancers that have occurred in people who are not heavy tobacco smokers, and (3) to understand why alpha particle induced DNA damage is challenging for cells to repair. Students will gain skills in: cell and molecular biology, advanced microscopy, gene editing, DNA repair biology, genetics, radiation sciences
Project 3 - Chromatin remodeling in oxidative DNA damage responses
Chromatin (the DNA and protein complex that our genome is packaged in) is highly dynamic, particularly in response to DNA damage. This cell and molecular biology oriented project focusses on our discovery that the CHD6 chromatin remodelling enzyme, which is often over-expressed in cancers, is an important oxidative DNA damage response factor. The goal is to determine the molecular mechanism by which CHD6 is stabilized by and recruited to oxidative DNA damage, and the significance of this to DNA repair, cancer cell growth and the cellular transcriptional response to oxidatively stressed microenvironments. Students will gain skills in: cell and molecular biology, advanced microscopy, gene editing, DNA repair biology, genetics, oxidative stress

Supervising degrees

Biochemistry and Molecular Biology - Doctoral: Seeking Students
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology - Masters: Seeking Students

Working with this supervisor

We are currently looking for PhD and MSc students. The ideal candidate should have a BSc (honours) or an MSc degree and be an author on at least one original research publication in the fields of Biology, Biochemistry, Radiation Science, Atomic Physics or an equivalent field. Knowledge of the DNA damage response field is a major bonus. An equivalent GPA of 3.5 or higher is essential, as well as fluency in spoken and written English. As some of our research interests are interdisciplinary by nature, individuals with background experience (in addition to Biology) in population health, epidemiology, medicine, and/or statistics will also be considered strongly.

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