Adelaide, June 8: In a groundbreaking discovery, Australian cancer researchers at Flinders University have identified a significant connection between a person’s cancer risk and circular RNAs (cRNAs) – a recently discovered family of genetic fragments found within our cells. The study, published in the prestigious cancer journal Cancer Cell, reveals that specific cRNAs can bind to DNA, leading to DNA mutations that contribute to the development of cancer.
Termed “ER3D” (endogenous RNA directed DNA damage), these groundbreaking finding ushers in a new era of medical and molecular biology research, according to Professor Simon Conn, leader of the Circular RNAs in Cancer Laboratory at Flinders University’s Health and Medical Research Institute. The discovery demonstrates that cRNAs have the ability to mutate our DNA from within, highlighting their potential as therapeutic targets and early markers of cancer.
The research team compared neonatal blood tests of infants who later developed acute leukemia with those who did not have any blood disorders. They found significantly higher levels of a specific cRNA present at birth in infants who later developed leukemia. These findings indicate that the abundance of cRNA molecules within certain individuals’ cells plays a crucial role in determining why some individuals develop cancer-causing genes or oncogenes while others do not.
Circular RNAs can bind to DNA at various locations within cells, resulting in DNA breakage. While the cell attempts to repair these breaks, imperfections and large mutations can occur. Furthermore, cRNAs can alter the physical location of broken DNA within the cell nucleus, leading to chromosomal translocation, a process that converts normal cells into cancerous ones. The gene fusions resulting from these cRNA actions are often found at well-known mutation hotspots in leukemia and have a significant impact on patient prognosis.
Dr. Vanessa Conn, lead author of the study, emphasizes that multiple cRNAs work together to cause DNA breaks at multiple sites, leading to gene fusions and the rapid onset of aggressive leukemia. This breakthrough research not only sheds light on the mechanisms behind leukemia but also extends to other cancers and human diseases.
With Australia experiencing the highest incidence of leukemia worldwide, these findings hold immense importance. The identification of cRNAs’ role in DNA mutations provides crucial insights for guiding treatment options and understanding disease progression. The Flinders University research team continues to investigate the involvement of circular RNAs in cancer and other diseases, promising new avenues for medical advancements and potential therapeutic interventions.
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