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'Quadruple helix' confirmed in cancer cells - may provide path to cure

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 22nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Cambridge scientists say that the discovery of a "quadruple helix" in human cells could be a key to fighting cancer. The hotly debated quadruple helix had previously been confirmed in theory, but never actually found. With the discovery of the helix in cancer cells, scientists are hopeful that this may lead to a cure to one of mankind's deadliest diseases.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - James Watson and Francis Crick 60 long years ago had proclaimed that they had found the secret of life in the double helix structure of DNA.

Quadruple helixes intertwine four, rather than two strands of DNA. The helix had been created in the lab by curious researchers, but it was believed that they didn't exist in nature.

Quadruple helixes - or "G-quadruplexes" as they are sometimes called have been found in cancer cells, according to a study published in Nature Chemistry.

In fact, the helix might be unique to human cancer cells, leading some to suggest that the discovery means that cancer drugs to target these unusual DNA structures could be developed.

"We are seeing links between trapping the quadruplexes with molecules and the ability to stop cells dividing, which is hugely exciting," Professor Shankar Balasubramanian from the University of Cambridge's Department of Chemistry and Cambridge Research Institute says.

Funded by Cancer Research U.K., the study shows clear links between concentrations of four-stranded quadruplexes and the process of DNA replication, which is pivotal to cell division and production.

DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, is the hereditary material in humans and almost all other organisms. Nearly every cell in a person's body has the same DNA.

First isolated by the Swiss physician Friedrich Miescher who, in 1869, he discovered a microscopic substance in the pus of discarded surgical bandages. Seeing as it was in the nuclei of cells, he called it nuclein.

Cambridge scientists James Watson and Francis Crick in 1953 suggested what is now accepted as the first correct double-helix model of DNA structure in the journal Nature.

Cancers are usually driven by genes called oncogenes that have mutated to increase DNA replication, which cause cell proliferation to spiral out of control, and leading to tumor growth.

"This research further highlights the potential for exploiting these unusual DNA structures to beat cancer - the next part of this pipeline is to figure out how to target them in tumor cells,' Dr Julie Sharp, senior science information manager at Cancer Research UK says.

"I'm hoping now that the pharmaceutical companies will bring this on to their radar and we can perhaps take a more serious look at whether quadruplexes are indeed therapeutically viable targets," Balasubramanian told TV journalists.

"The quadruple helix DNA structure may well be the key to new ways of selectively inhibiting the proliferation of cancer cells . The confirmation of its existence in human cells is a real landmark."

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