Home » Rigor and RelevanceSpring 2011

Repairs Better Than Duct Tape

by Cindy Thomsen No Comment

Every human body is, even at conservative estimates, made up of trillions upon trillions of cells. Inside those cells is DNA, which serves as the body’s basic operating system—it keeps our hearts pumping, our lungs breathing, cells reproducing and even our hair growing. But DNA can also be damaged—by environmental toxins, radiation and medical treatments like chemotherapy. When that happens, DNA’s own enzymes immediately start the repair process on the cells.

Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Brandt Eichman, along with colleagues from Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pittsburgh, has discovered a new way that those cell enzymes detect and repair damage to DNA. Finding this new DNA repair mechanism could lead to improved treatments for a variety of diseases, including cancer.

“Understanding protein-DNA interactions at the atomic level is important because it provides a clear starting point for designing drugs that enhance or disrupt the interactions in a very specific way,” Eichman says.

This discovery could lead to chemotherapy drugs that attack cancerous cells without harming healthy ones. Another benefit might be fewer of the harmful side effects associated with chemotherapy treatments such as nausea, hair loss and debilitating fatigue.

Arts and Science graduate student Emily H. Rubinson assisted in the project. Detailed findings of Eichman’s research were published in the online journal, Nature. The research was funded by grants from the American Cancer Society, the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Energy.

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