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How does your body prevent cancer from forming every day?

Posted July 27, 2017

Cancer is still a very scary diagnosis, despite the latest advances in medical science. However, scientists point out a fact that our bodies are generally very good at detecting early signs of cancer and eliminating them. How? Scientists from University of Edinburgh looked into how cells detect damage in their DNA.

You probably have read it somewhere on the internet already – you are one step away from cancer every day, your body is just very good at keeping the disease in check. It does so by detecting these very early signs, such as DNA damage. When a cell detects it DNA is damaged, inflammation process starts, removing all potentially cancerous cells from the tissue keeping the body healthy. But how does the organism knows which cells have to be removed? It is quite a tricky question, because DNA is actually physically separated from the rest of the cell inside a compartment called the nucleus.

Pretty much the earliest sign of cancer is DNA damage in the cell – our bodies learned to detect it and react immediately. Image credit: Paphrag via Wikimedia(CC BY-SA 2.5)

Scientists found that when DNA is damaged, some micronuclei – structured formed by fragments of DNA – form around the nucleus. These micronuclei are detected and actually penetrated by cGAS, which is a key molecule, known to bind DNA triggering inflammation. Science knew about the importance of the cGAS molecule for a long time, but could not figure out how it works, because it cannot go into the nucleus. Now it appears that it doesn’t even have to – it goes into smaller micronuclei, where it can bind to fragments of DNA and cause a process resulting in inflammation. This, of course, works a bit like a red flag for the body, marking cells that have to be removed to keep the tissue healthy and cancer-free.

DNA damage is one of the earliest steps of cancer development. It means that removing the danger at this stage is a big priority and cGAS molecule is a very important actor in this process. It works like an alarm system, preventing cancer even before it is actually started. These findings could help improving cancer diagnosis and prevention, but they are also important in the research of autoinflammatory diseases, where the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. Dr Karen Mackenzie, one of the authors of the study, said: “Our findings provide a possible new mechanism for how the body protects itself against cancer, but in some circumstances could instead trigger inflammatory disease”.

Human body really is amazing. Cancer is not a virus or some other intruder which causes trouble in our bodies. It is just a mistake in our own cell division, which could lead to some serious health problems. Understanding how our bodies prevent this from happening every day could, hopefully, lead to new ways of preventing cancer for good.


Source: University of Edinburgh

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