Page last updated at 00:03 GMT, Saturday, 26 December 2009

Troubleshooters that block cancer

Breast cancer cell
The research was carried out on breast cancer cells

Scientists have shown how a family of "limpet-like" proteins play a crucial role in repairing the DNA damage which can lead to cancer.

They hope the finding could pave the way for a new type of drug which could help kill cancer cells, and promote production of healthy replacements.

The proteins seem to have a remarkable ability to zero in on damaged areas.

The breakthrough, uncovered independently by two teams, appears in the journal Nature.

The family of Small Ubiquitin-like Modifier (SUMO) proteins track down sites in the body where DNA damage has occurred.

This is the first step towards developing drugs which may protect normal cells from the side effects of chemotherapy, or improve the effectiveness of current breast cancer treatments
Dr Jo Morris
King's College London

They attach themselves to normal proteins, and guide them in to fix the genetic faults.

Using this method, the proteins are even able to repair double strand DNA breaks - the most severe type of DNA damage.

When their work is done, the proteins detach themselves and move on.

Breast cancer gene

One of the study teams was able to follow this process of repair taking place on the BRCA1 gene, which, if damaged, is associated with a very high risk of breast cancer.

SUMO was shown to attach to the damaged gene, and switch it back on - helping prevent breast cancer forming.

Researcher Dr Jo Morris, from King's College London, said: "This new insight is the first step towards developing drugs which may protect normal cells from the side effects of chemotherapy, or improve the effectiveness of current breast cancer treatments."

Dr Lesley Walker, of Cancer Research UK, which part-funded the study, said: "DNA damage, particularly double strand DNA breaks, are a fundamental cause of cancer and we know that people who have mutations in the BRCA1 gene have a higher risk of developing some kinds of cancer.

"Discovering that these limpet-like proteins play such an important role in repair may provide new opportunities to stop cancer from growing."

But she added: "This is an extremely complex and intricate biological process so it may be many years before we can use this knowledge to safely intervene and help treat cancer patients."



Print Sponsor


SEE ALSO
'Sumo' offers brain disease hope
08 May 07 |  Health
New drug 'can treat more cancers'
15 Sep 09 |  Health
New cancer drug 'shows promise'
24 Jun 09 |  Health

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



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific