News archive 2009
New interaction for Breast Cancer Gene21 Dec 2009, PR 275/09
Scientists at King’s College London have found that a family of proteins can play a crucial role in repairing DNA damage and help prevent Cancer – according to research published in Nature.
The research, funded by Cancer Research UK and Breast Cancer Campaign, studied the ways in which cells respond to DNA damage. Failure to repair this damage accurately can lead to cell death and trigger diseases such as cancer.
Studies both from King’s and Cambridge University independently found that a family of Small Ubiquitin-like Modifier (SUMO) proteins could track down sites in the body where DNA damage has occurred, attach themselves to normal proteins, and guide them in fixing the genetic faults.
These proteins could unlock a secret to the body’s cancer fighting mechanisms. It is hoped that this new knowledge may help scientists to develop drugs which work with common cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, to kill cancerous cells and allow the body to reproduce healthy new ones. The scientists made this discovery by observing the way cancer cells behave in the laboratory.
Role of SUMO in relation to Breast Cancer
Dr Jo Morris, a Breast Cancer Campaign fellow in the Cancer Genetics Laboratory at King's, who led the study comments: ‘Our team looked specifically at the role of SUMO in relation to the breast cancer gene BRCA1 – which, when faulty, is associated with a very high risk of breast cancer. The findings showed that after DNA damage, SUMO becomes attached to BRCA1, switching it on and helping prevent breast cancer forming.
‘We discovered how the cells in our body co-ordinate the difficult task of repairing potentially breast cancer- causing DNA breaks and how they direct BRCA1 to do its job to stop tumours forming. This new insight is the first step towards developing drugs which may protect normal cells from the side effects of chemotherapy, or improve the effectiveness of current breast cancer treatments.’
Professor Ellen Solomon, head of the Cancer Genetics Research Group at King's, added: 'The complexity of DNA repair in breast cancer is enormous and each new piece of the puzzle, such as the SUMO interactions, increases the potential for further unravelling the basic cell biology and brings new ways of thinking about potential therapeutics.'
Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said: ‘DNA damage, particularly double strand DNA breaks, are a fundamental cause of cancer and we know that people who have mutations in the BRCA1 gene have a higher risk of developing some kinds of cancer. Discovering that these ‘limpet like’ proteins play such an important role in repair may provide new opportunities to stop cancer from growing.
‘But this is an extremely complex and intricate biological process so it may be many years before we can use this knowledge to safely intervene and help treat cancer patients.’
Notes to editors
*Yaron Galanty et al. SUMO proteins promote responses to DNA double-strand breaks in mammalian cells. Nature. December. 2009.
Joanna Morris et al. The SUMO modification pathway is involved in the BRCA1 response to genotoxic stress. Nature, December, 2009. You can watch a video interview with Dr Jo Morris here: http://tinyurl.com/ycepbd6
This study was funded by Breast Cancer Campaign, Cancer Research UK, the Medical Research Council and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.
King's College London
King's College London is one of the top 25 universities in the world (Times Higher Education 2009) and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has more than 21,000 students from nearly 140 countries, and more than 5,700 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.
King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.
King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres.
King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit: www.kingshealthpartners.org.
Kate Moore, Public Relations Officer (Health Schools)
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