Could DNA Provide Help for Cancer Patients?

In recent years, DNA — the material that makes each of us tick — has increasingly been studied to reveal everything from ancestry to our risk for certain medical conditions. Now, scientists are exploring our genetic makeup in their quest for innovative ways to develop help for cancer patients.

When cancer cells attack our bodies, they do so in part through an enzyme called polymerase, which can help the cells survive DNA damage. Researchers at Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland have proposed a new cancer treatment using a combination of the drugs talazoparib and 5-azacytidine, which together attack the enzyme and prevent cancer cells from flourishing. According to their study, tumors in mice who were given the drug combo were half the size of those in mice that received just one of the two drugs. The therapy also had similar effects in preventing the spread of leukemia.

Researchers are forging ahead to make this new help for cancer patients a reality; talazoparib hasn’t yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration but but a similar drug targeting breast- and ovarian-cancer DNA enzymes is quickly moving forward.

Drug therapy isn’t the only area where DNA is being explored.

The National Institutes of Health is in the midst of recruiting 1 million Americans to participate in a comprehensive, pioneering study about the role of genetics and life style in health. The effort is part of the federal government’s “precision medicine” plan, which refers to tailoring medical treatments according to a person’s genetic makeup, with a special focus on cancer treatment. White House Office of Science and Technology Police associate director Jo Handelsman called the focus on DNA “a game changer that holds the potential to revolutionize how we approach health in this country and around the world.”

The information contained in our DNA may be vast and complex, but it’s easy to see why relying on it to provide help for cancer patients is a smart approach.

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