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New molecules for fighting cancer

Cells can survive and multiply under more stress than previously thought, shows new research.

The discovery was made by inhibiting the essential gene DNA polymerase alpha, or POLA1, which initiates DNA replication during cell division.

The finding gives researchers new insights into DNA replication and may potentially be used for a new type of cancer treatment.

Research lead Professor Luis Toledo said: “If we are visionaries, I’d say we might be at the birth of a whole new set of molecules that could be used in fighting cancer.

“Basically, if we turn the finding on its head, this novel strategy aims at exploiting an in-built weakness in cancer cells and make them crash while they divide.”

When a cell divides, the double DNA strand is opened lengthwise like an unzipped zipper. The new double strands are built at each of the separated strands, so you gradually get two new “zippers”.

Before the new halves of the zipper are made, a bit of DNA is temporally exposed in single stranded form. This process is required for the new zippers to form.

Large amounts of single-stranded DNA have traditionally been considered to be a sign of pathological stress during cell proliferation.

The researchers discovered that DNA unzippers act more loosely than expected. This can generate large amounts of single-stranded DNA, which the researchers show is no more than a form of natural stress that cells can actually tolerate in high quantities.  

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Image credit | iStock

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