Scientists from the University of Sheffield have unlocked one of the secrets to DNA repair -helping doctors identify DNA base damage and a patient's susceptibility to certain types of cancer.
Groundbreaking research led by Dr David Williams from the University of Sheffield's Department of Chemistry and an international collaboration of expert researchers has discovered how some proteins recognise damaged bases within DNA which, if untreated, could lead to cancer.
Dr Williams said: "Proteins carry out all the day-to-day processes needed for survival. If the DNA bases become damaged the associated protein may not function or in some cases, too much of a certain protein can be produced - which might lead to cancer.
"Everyday humans are exposed to chemicals known as alkylating agents which may be derived from environmental sources or from dietary sources such as a high intake of red or processed meat or exposure to tobacco smoke. Alkylating agents can chemically modify the bases in DNA which can, in turn, lead to non-functional proteins being produced or indeed cancer.
"Fortunately humans have a large number of different DNA repair proteins whose task it is to find and repair damaged bases in DNA. However DNA base damage, although highly problematic, is rare and often only one or two bases per million or even fewer. The task of locating a damaged base is similar to finding a needle in a haystack."
DNA contains all the information needed for life within the sequence of its four bases; adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. Specific sequences of bases in DNA known as genes instruct what proteins are made and furthermore genes may be switched on or off to control how much of each protein is made.