Or Szekely’s research on Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) methodologies began with her PhD at the department of Chemical and Biological Physics at Weizmann Institute of Science, where she developed methods to improve NMR’s speed and sensitivity for studies of proteins. She ventured away from physics to Weizmann’s Department of Structural Biology for her first postdoc, developing a fascination with the dynamics of biological molecules. She believes in addressing interesting biological questions by applying techniques from different disciplines.
Currently, Dr. Szekely is a postdoctoral fellow both at the Biochemistry Department at Duke University School of Medicine and at the Biology Department at Duke. She is combining her skills in NMR with the School of Medicine lab’s expertise on nucleic acid research, and learning more about protein-DNA interactions in the biology department’s lab.
While mutations may occur due to damage or other causes, the dominant mutation process in human cancers arises out of DNA replication errors, the subject of Dr. Szekely’s current project. Until now, scientists have believed that DNA polymerases (proteins that perform DNA replication and repair) are the main source of base pair misincorporation, while DNA itself is a passive substrate. Dr. Szekely and the lab researchers she works with are challenging this, hypothesizing a fundamental role for DNA dynamics in its own copying errors. Her research could help to explain the varying susceptibility of different genes to different types of mutations leading to cancer.