Wednesday, February 5, 2014

New Clues May Link Hereditary Cancer Genes to Increased Risk of Cancer from Alcohol

News Brief by Catie Donlon

Scientists at John Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center have found that alcohol can cause an increased risk of cancer in people carrying mutations in the genes BRCA2 and PALB2. When these two genes function normally, they help protect cells from a toxin called acetaldehyde, which is a DNA-damaging substance. Acetaldehyde is created when alcohol is metabolized, and is the cause of “hangovers.” However acetaldehyde is also found in other natural sources like apples. BRCA2 and PALB2 repair the DNA damage caused by acetaldehyde by binding to one another, protecting cells from 96 percent of the toxicity of acetaldehyde. However when there are mutations in these genes, the DNA repair mechanism is no longer functional, resulting in more damage and an increased risk of cancer.

Scott Kern and his research team at Johns Hopkins studied human cell lines lacking the BRCA2 and PALB2 genes and observed the cells’ growth after exposure to acetaldehyde. The mutant cells grew 25 times less than normal cells with functional BRCA2 and PALB2, concluding that mutations in these two genes are more susceptible to the DNA damaging effects of acetaldehyde. Kern says that these findings could help develop cancer treatments and drugs in the future.

Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2014, January 23). New clues may link hereditary cancer genes to increased risk of cancer from alcohol. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 4, 2014 from
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