In his paper, to be published in The EMBO Jorunal, Dr Surralls describes how proteins of the Fanconi/BRCA pathway recognise the presence of genetic mutations in order to repair them. The researchers also found that alteration of this mechanism makes tumour cells much more sensitive to certain drugs. This discovery will make it possible to develop strategies to make tumours more vulnerable to chemotherapy.
One of the main mechanisms responsible for repairing mutations in humans is the cancer-suppressing Fanconi anaemia/BRCA pathway. This mechanism makes it possible for the cells to identify genetic mutations in order to correct them.
If this mechanism does not function correctly, it leads to Fanconi anaemia, a rare genetic disorder characterised by progressive bone-marrow failure, various congenital malformations and a very high risk of cancer.
Furthermore, the proteins of this pathway are largely responsible for the resistance of tumours to many antitumour agents such as cisplatin and other chemotherapeutic agents that kill tumour cells by producing DNA interstrand crosslinks. That is, they identify cellular alterations induced by chemotherapy and correct them, "accidentally" helping the tumour.
Many tumours have molecular anomalies in this pathway. These defects mean the tumours can be treated efficiently using certain antitumour agents. There are at least 13 genes involved in the pathway. Three of these (BRCA2, BRIP1 and PALB2) are responsible for the high proportion of hereditary breast cancers (between 5 and 10% of all breast cancers).
Understanding how this DNA repair pathway works is of great interest to biomedicine, not only for Fanconi anaemia patients, but also for the general cancer population, since it determines the the efficacy of chemotherapy in treating many tumours. However, the involvement of 13 genes in the same pathway makes the study more complexed.