Discovery about DNA repair could lead to improved cancer treatments

Medical researchers at the University of Alberta have made a basic science discovery that advances the understanding of how DNA repairs itself. When DNA becomes too damaged it ultimately leads to cancer.

Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry researcher Mark Glover and his colleagues published their findings in the peer-reviewed journal, Structure (Cell Press), earlier this summer. For years, scientists thought two key proteins involved in DNA repair operated in exactly the same way. Glover's team discovered how the proteins operate and communicate is vastly different—information that could lead to improved cancer treatments.

Glover explains that a known as BRCA1 acts like a hallway monitor—constantly scanning DNA for damage. At the first sign of problems, this protein figures out what kind of help is needed, and "radios" in a cleanup crew of other proteins.

A second protein, known as TopBP1, ensures that DNA can copy itself when needed. When this process stalls due to DNA damage, this protein also calls in a cleanup crew. But Glover likens its method of communication to tweets, rather than radio.

"The two proteins may be related and look very similar, but their roles and the way they communicate are in fact very different, which was surprising to us," Glover says. "Each protein plays a role in recognizing damaged regions of DNA, but the problem they each solve is different.

"The question now is how can we use this information to try to improve cancer therapies? Could we temporarily knock out cancer DNA's ability to repair itself from radiation damage? Could we administer radiation at a point that prevents cancer DNA from copying itself? Could we inhibit the activity of proteins that are normally trying to run around and fix the damage?

"Maybe some of these ideas could ultimately translate into less radiation or chemotherapy needed for patients, if the treatment can be more targeted," says Glover, who works in the Department of Biochemistry.

His team is continuing its research in this area, and wants to learn more about the role of the TopBP1 protein and why it favours communicating with a specific protein. They also want to conduct tests in their lab to see if the use of certain medications could alter the way these proteins work in a way that could result in new or improved treatments.

Glover's lab members make 3-D images of proteins, making it easier to understand and see how proteins work.

Related Stories

A scanner for hereditary defects

date Jan 24, 2013

Our genetic material is constantly exposed to damage, which the body's own proteins normally repair. One of these proteins works like a scanner, continually scouring the genetic material for signs of damage. ...

Molecular corkscrew

date Nov 08, 2011

Scientists from the universities of Zurich and Duisburg-Essen have discovered a specific function of the protein p97/VCP. They demonstrate that the protein repairs DNA breaks like a corkscrew, a repair mechanism that could ...

An unexpected player in a cancer defense system

date Nov 28, 2011

Researchers of the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet and the University of Cologne, Germany, have identified a new protein involved in a defense mechanism against cancer. The VCP/p97 complex is best known for ...

Laser pulses reveal DNA repair mechanisms

date Aug 09, 2013

A new straightforward method enables monitoring the response of nuclear proteins to DNA damage in time and space. The approach is based on nonlinear photoperturbation.

Recommended for you

Spicy treatment the answer to aggressive cancer?

date Jul 03, 2015

It has been treasured by food lovers for thousands of years for its rich golden colour, peppery flavour and mustardy aroma…and now turmeric may also have a role in fighting cancer.

Cancer survivors who smoke perceive less risk from tobacco

date Jul 02, 2015

Cancer survivors who smoke report fewer negative opinions about smoking, have more barriers to quitting, and are around other smokers more often than survivors who had quit before or after their diagnosis, according to a ...

Melanoma mutation rewires cell metabolism

date Jul 02, 2015

A mutation found in most melanomas rewires cancer cells' metabolism, making them dependent on a ketogenesis enzyme, researchers at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University have discovered.

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.