Molecule find could help in treatment of cancer

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The Independent Online

Scientists have discovered a new mechanism for repairing damaged DNA that could have major implications for cancer treatment using chemotherapy.

Scientists have discovered a new mechanism for repairing damaged DNA that could have major implications for cancer treatment using chemotherapy.

Researchers have found that a molecule called AlkB, which helps repair damage to genes, works in a unique way. The study, published in the journal Nature, found that AlkB uses a particular chemical process called oxidative demethylation to repair DNA, relying on the presence of iron and several other chemicals.

During cancer treatments conventional drugs attack tumours by damaging their DNA and AlkB plays an important role in resistance to these treatments. Interfering with its activity could therefore help bring important advances in chemotherapy.

Dr Barbara Sedgwick, who led research at Cancer Research UK's London Institute, said: "The process for repairing DNA has been studied intensively for many years now, so to discover a completely new mechanism of action was surprising and very exciting.

"We think the AlkB molecule could be one of the major reasons for resistance to chemotherapy and now we know how it works, it should be possible to find ways to overcome this problem.

"Testing for the molecule could help us to predict whether chemotherapy is likely to be successful, while drugs to inhibit it could boost the effectiveness of conventional drugs," she said.

"It might also be possible to use AlkB to protect cells in the bone marrow that can get damaged by chemotherapy, which may reduce the side effects."

Sir Paul Nurse, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "Our cells are constantly suffering genetic damage and without systems for patching up our DNA they quickly die as a result. Chemotherapy tries to take advantage of the lethal effects of DNA damage to kill cancer cells, but sometimes our natural repair systems get in the way and cause resistance to treatment."

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