By Cara Sulieman
SCIENTISTS at a Scottish university have found a DNA ‘tool kit’ inside the body that repairs damage to the cells.
And because DNA damage is one of the main causes of cancer, it is hoped the discovery can help develop treatment for the deadly disease in the future.
The proteins detect abnormalities in the DNA and go about fixing it so that the cell can start working normally again.
The team, based at Dundee University, have discovered the SLX proteins that maintain healthy DNA and prevent the mutations which can lead to cancer.
How the cell works
When DNA fixes itself, it produces ‘branchpoints’ and ‘flaps’ of the substance that need to be cut off to complete the repair.
Scientists have been looking for the thing that cuts the DNA for more than 20 years, and now Dr John Rouse and his colleagues have found it.
Dr Rouse said: “The DNA in every cell of the human body encodes the instructions for the correct working of the each cell.
“A major problem is that DNA becomes damaged regularly.
“If DNA damage is not fixed quickly then the instructions for the proper functioning of the cell are altered and the result is mutations that can cause the cell to become abnormal.
How it works
“This is essentially what causes cancer.
“However, cells are very good at recognising when DNA has become damaged and they start to repair the damage. For example, cells can quickly detect breakages in DNA and quickly fix these breaks.
“Many different factors help this process but we still haven’t identified all of them or exactly how this process works.
“With our findings we have unlocked a major part of the puzzle. We discovered a new set of proteins – the ‘SLX’ proteins – that are essential for the repair of DNA breaks.
“Together these proteins act like a Swiss Army knife or a ‘molecular toolkit’ for DNA repair.
“Cells that do not have the SLX proteins are unable to repair DNA breaks and their DNA becomes irreversibly damaged and die.”
And the discovery of this ‘tool kit’ means the potential for a huge leap forward in cancer treatment and prevention.
Dr Rouse said: “Now that we have identified these proteins and the role they play in repairing DNA we can start to develop drugs that target these processes.
“This could have a significant effect in cancer, primarily in helping to greatly enhance the efficacy of drugs used in chemotherapy treatments.”
Dr Mark Matfield, from the charity, said, “This is an important step forward in our basic understanding of DNA repair.
“Since damage to DNA is, ultimately, the cause of all cancers, we really want to understand how cells can repair it.
“These findings could have implications for future developments in both cancer prevention and treatment.”