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DNA clamp could improve cancer screening methods

Category: Cancer Detection and Tumor Markers

Lab tests as part of an international research project have helped design a DNA clamp that detects genetic mutations with greater efficiency than ever before. These results could vastly improve quick screening of genetic diseases such as cancer and provide advances in the field of nanotechnology.

"The results of our study have considerable implications in the area of diagnostics and therapeutics because the DNA clamp can be adapted to provide a fluorescent signal in the presence of DNA sequences having mutations with high risk for certain types [of] cancer," explained Francesco Ricci, Ph.D., co-author of the study from the University of Rome Tor Vergata.

A growing number of mutations have been identified as risk factors for the development of serious diseases, including cancer. Previous groups have attempted to design an effective and inexpensive method to quickly detect these malicious mutations, but this DNA clamp is one of the first successful attempts. The clamp designed by Ricci's team distinguishes between both mutated and non-mutated strands of DNA with improved efficiency. This is especially significant because it allows for better specificity for determining what kinds of cancer patients have or are at risk of developing.

Working with a triple-helix
Watson and Crick's original hypothesis, before they won the Nobel Prize for the double-helix, was that a triple-helix was the structural form of DNA. In some cases, DNA architectures do form in the shape of triple-helixes. Because they knew this could occur, the researchers based their DNA clamp off of this hypothesis. The clamp forms a third helix and attaches itself to the DNA strand, which allows the protein sequences to form stronger bonds. Additionally, it gives more specificity to diagnoses.

"Beyond the obvious applications in the diagnosis of genetic diseases, I believe this work will pave the way for new applications related in the area of DNA-based nanostructures and nanomachines. Such nanomachines could ultimately have a major impact on many aspects of healthcare in the future," concluded fellow study author Kevin Plaxco, Ph.D., from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The DNA clamp is one of many recent advances in the field of cancer detection. The research team's next course of action will be carrying out lab tests with the clamp on human DNA sequences. If they are successful, it could lead to serious developments in cancer screening and treatment.

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