To find a cure for cancer, the modern-day plague of our society is synonymous to finding the holy grail of science.
At a recent EuroDYNA conference in Brno, Czech Republic, scientists from around Europe came together to share their research carried out in the field of genetics and cell nucleus architecture. A greater understanding of the body's building blocks might ultimately lead to a better understanding of human disease.
Understanding DNA damage
Jiri Bartek from the Danish Cancer Society in Copenhagen in Denmark, is one step closer to understanding the route of cancer through his work on cell response to DNA damage. By using a UV laser to damage DNA strands inside tumour cells, the Copenhagen team is able to directly observe the different checkpoints in the cell.
Each time a cell divides its genetic information must be doubled in order for the genes to remain the same. A cell that is about to become tumorous can not make this genome replication and division without errors. To spot errors in the genetic material cells have evolved mechanisms to slow down or block cell division (so called cell-cycle checkpoints), promote DNA repair, or eliminate damaged, hazardous cells by engaging a cellular suicide program. How cells make the choice between life and death in response to DNA damage is critical not only for the fate of each cell, but also for avoiding life-threatening diseases such as cancer.
In cells with an early pre-tumorous change, the entire checkpoint network is activated. The system puts an end to such cells or blocks their division by a process of cellular senescence. On the other hand, defects in the DNA damage response machinery, or a phenomenon of checkpoint adaptation (when the cell arrest is long-term and not irreversible) may allow the cell to escape from the DNA damage-imposed blockade and despite its damaged DNA, it may multiply. This can give birth to a tumour.