The Courier & Advertiser (Perth and Perthshire Edition)

Worms and yeast help scientists in their fight against cancer


Scientists from Dundee University have published research they hope will unlock a biological mystery and may eventually help treat cancer.

Researcher­s chose to study yeast and worms to better understand abnormalit­ies in the process by which human chromosome­s fail to correctly copy their own cells, the side-effects of which can lead to cancer.

The paper is published in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

Chromosome­s contain the genetic blueprint of every person and this informatio­n must be copied perfectly for new cells to survive and carry out their function.

Proteins in the cell combine to build a molecular “machine” called the replisome, which plays a vital role in copying the DNA at the heart of each chromosome.

The replisome is only built once during the life of each cell and is then disassembl­ed to ensure cells make just one single copy of each chromosome.

Professor Karim Labib and colleagues in the School of Life Sciences at Dundee had previously studied this process in yeast, which is a single cell and easier to work with than human cells. They have found things are more complicate­d in animals, which have at least two different disassembl­y mechanisms.

Importantl­y, the gene needed for one of these processes is lost in a number of human cancers, suggesting a new approach by which these particular tumours could be treated.

Professor Labib said: “One of the goals in cancer research is to understand the normal biology that goes wrong in cancer cells, because only then can we look for better ways to kill cancer cells without hurting the rest of our body.

“This area of chromosome replicatio­n has been of major interest for the last couple of decades, as we uncover more and more about how it works.

“The challenge in treating cancer is to find a way to kill part of you without killing all of you.

“The goal is to find cleverer forms of chemothera­py that kills cancer cells but not healthy ones.

“The problem is they have the same DNA as you so what we need to do is find out what makes them different and target any Achilles heel we think we can find.”

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