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Clues To Cancer Evolution: Researchers Capture DNA Snippets Healthy Cells Produce Before Turning Cancerous

Scientists from the Rice University, Baylor College of Medicine, and other team members used synthetic biology in the attempt to understand the DNA snippets that are generally produced by healthy cells in the process of cancer development.

The researchers conducted a study that could lead to developing new, more efficient drugs dedicated to cancer prevention. The drugs would employ a technique that neutralizes the so-called “DNA intermediates,” the pieces of DNA code that are produced as healthy cells in our bodies become cancerous, according to the study published in the journal Science Advances.

Fixing DNA – Possible Cure For Cancer

Susan Rosenberg, lead author of the study, explained how they studied the genetic transformation that takes place as healthy cells become cancerous. As cells go through the division process, they make copies of their identity inside the DNA.

As the DNA unwinds, it develops vulnerability to damage and has to undergo a repairing process. The editing phase that could solve this and prevent the development of cancer within cells is conducted by a series of enzymes in the form of proteins responsible for the DNA fixing.

This fixing process consists of a series of steps. From the original DNA to the final replication, the cells produce these DNA reaction intermediates, which are the ones responsible for a possible cure, according to the research.

However, because of their unstable characteristics, DNA reaction intermediates turned out to be difficult to analyze in a lab, as they only last for less than a second before an enzyme starts the replication process.

Synthetic Models Describing DNA Formation

The intermediate molecules that are part of the DNA replication are the key clue to adjusting the biochemical reactions, as they define the route that is to be followed. Because these molecules are difficult to study on living subjects, the team created synthetic proteins that would simulate the biochemical process.

For the study, packages of genes were added to an organism that was found to represent an accurate model to conduct the research on. The model undergoes the same process as animals’ cellular activity does.

The researchers employed the E. coli model in their lab studies, which proved to be a reliable mechanism for the purpose of the research. While humans and bacteria are significantly different, the model replicates on a smaller scale the DNA repair proteins.

As a result of using this technique, the team was able to observe specific DNA-repair intermediate molecules, as well as their characteristics and processes.

“When you know these reactions and the role each intermediate plays in the mechanisms that change DNA, you can think about making drugs that will stop them,” Rosenberg said, adding that they hope to develop drugs that target specific cancer types in the future.


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