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DNA under new spotlight

18 Ionawr 2011

Professor Ray WatersProfessor Ray Waters

A unique view of human DNA developed by University scientists could offer a valuable new insight into the development and treatment of conditions like cancer.

Professor Ray Waters, Dr Simon Reed and Dr Yumin Teng from the School of Medicine’s Department of Genetics, Haematology and Pathology developed the unique method of measuring DNA damage frequency using tiny microarrays at greater than gene resolution.

Using the new method, Cardiff scientists can now examine all 28,000 human genes whereas previous techniques have only been able to analyse parts of about five human genes.

The new patented technique offers an unprecedented view of DNA damage in humans caused by cancer and cancer treatments, like chemotherapy.

Professor Ray Waters, School of Medicine, said: "This is really an exciting development, as it enables us - for the first time - to examine DNA damage in the entire human genome in all of its genes.

"This is especially useful if we examine the damage to people’s DNA of those with cancer. By examining damage we can understand the causes of cancer as well as help develop ways of treating it."

The novel method, developed with funding from the Medical Research Council and Cancer Research Wales, and patented for use in the UK and Europe will have implications for risk assessment, for cancer diagnostics and for developing new cancer therapeutics.

The new method has led to the Professor Waters and Dr Reed being awarded a three-year research award from Cancer Research UK, to understand how the genome is accessed to enable repair of all of its genes.

Our DNA can be damaged in many different ways – through radiation, chemicals and events in the body itself. Genetic defects in DNA repair can lead to cancer prone conditions, immunity defects, premature ageing and other problems.

In normal individuals there are many examples of DNA damage being linked to cancer through smoking or exposure to solar ultra violet light.

Professor Ray Waters, who heads the University’s Cancer Studies Interdisciplinary Research Group, is part of a group of more than 50 researchers working together on new cancer therapeutics and diagnostics which can be taken through to the clinic.

He was deputy chair of the Commission on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment’s Committee and he drove its 2009 report on the health risks associated with sunbed usage.

Professor Waters added: "The method has some very exciting potential applications. We are already working alongside companies like Agilent to examine whether our method can be used by the chemical and pharmaceutical industries for routine genotoxicity testing. Here, determining whether new agents damage DNA is a crucial step in their development.

"The technique could also be used for other purposes, like examining DNA damage in the skin from sunburn, and we will be looking to develop this application over the coming months and years. For future developments input from our current team of Mark Bennett, Yanbo Deng, Katie Evans, Matthew Leadbitter, Dr James Powell and Dr Shirong Yu will be crucial."

Related links:

The European Cancer Stem Cell Research Institute


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