BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Tuesday, 17 July, 2001, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
Crucial cancer genes identified
Lab work
Two genes could be crucial
Scientists believe that two genes could hold the key to preventing cancer.

They have discovered that the genes, DNA-PK and p53, work to keep the body's genetic make-up - the genome - healthy.

DNA-PK normally repairs damaged genes, while p53 stops damaged genes from re-producing themselves.

Scientists from the Cancer Research Campaign led by Dr Carl Anderson, of Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York, have found that cancer can result when either DNA-PK or p53 is defective.

We can work on ways to safeguard these cornerstone genes, protecting the genome and stopping cancer before it starts

Dr Carl Anderson
Dr Anderson presented his findings at an international conference on cancer in Glasgow on Tuesday.

He said: "The human genome is like a great castle. In healthy cells the castle stands strong but as cancer develops it quickly crumbles.

"DNA-PK and p53 are the crucial cornerstone genes that hold the castle up.

"When they are intact we are safe, but when either goes wrong the castle starts to collapse.

"But now we know this, we can work on ways to safeguard these cornerstone genes, protecting the genome and stopping cancer before it starts."


Sometimes the DNA-PK gene can be useful to cancer cells.

Many anti-cancer treatments work by causing genetic damage.

But if DNA-PK is working it can repair the damage and keep the cancer cells alive.

Cambridge University scientist, Professor Steve Jackson is working on ways to prevent DNA-PK from functioning in cancer cells, so that anti-cancer treatments can work more effectively.

He said: "By understanding how DNA-PK and related enzymes work at the molecular level we are learning more about how cancers arise and how they respond to radiotherapy.

"This work therefore has significant potential for improving cancer therapies."

The p53 gene is mutated in only around half of all cancers.

However Dr Anderson believes it is probably inactive in nearly all the others too.

Scientists already know that lifestyle factors affect how well p53 works.

Avoiding carcinogens that affect p53 could be a key step towards a healthier lifestyle.

See also:

13 May 01 | Health
Simple test for cancer gene
18 Jan 01 | Health
Cancer gene breakthrough
15 Jan 01 | Health
Cells 'seek and destroy' cancer
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories