Researchers have now been successful in understanding how our cells repair mutations caused to DNA by the sun or carcinogenic substances found in alcohol and cigarettes. Health experts suggest that this breakthrough, which earned the Nobel Chemistry Prize, could significantly improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy cancer treatment.
Chemotherapy attacks cancer cells by trying to scramble their genetic code and thus their ability to multiply. But, just like healthy cells, even the cancer cells do not give up without a fight. Terence Strick, a DNA repair researcher at the Jacques Monod Institute in Paris, said, "The cell repair systems are going to try to undo the work of doctors by fixing the damage the doctors were trying to inflict. One solution would be to inhibit the ability of cancerous cells to self-mend."
Nora Goosen, a DNA repair expert at Leiden University in the Netherlands, said, "If you attack these repair mechanisms (in cancer cells) in combination with chemotherapy and other drugs, it can be more effective."
Damages in DNA can cause cells to malfunction, age prematurely, and become cancerous. The majority of changes to our DNA are immediately corrected, but some might accumulate and lead to cancer. Some individuals are more susceptible to cancer because their DNA repair response is faulty.
Ironically, the same repair mechanism identified by the research team can also cause cancerous cell to resist the effects of cancer treatment.
Alan Worsley, a spokesman for the charity Cancer Research UK, said, "New drugs are being developed to fight the disease. The treatment olaparib, which stops cancer cells from fixing DNA damage was approved by the European Commission in December 2014 for use in Europe."
Alain Sarasin of France's CNRS research institute said, "We don't yet know how to target tumor cells specifically. If we would give a patient a molecule which inhibits the self-repair mechanism of cancer cells, it may also inhibit the repair systems of other cells like white blood cells. If, one day, we have a molecule which reinforces the DNA repair and can be targeted to blood cells, for example, followed by chemotherapy after, this would allow us to increase the chemotherapy dosage without unintentionally killing blood cells. For now, we don't know how to do that."