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Alcohol Found To Physically Break DNA In Stem Cells, Providing Potential Cause For Cancer


A product of alcohol can snap and rearrange the DNA in blood stem cells. il21/Shutterstock

Scientists may have found the one of the reasons that alcohol can cause cancer. It is discovered that the hard stuff can lead to  irreversible damage to the DNA in some of human body’s stem cells, possibly demonstrating kind of a link between alcohol and deadly mutations.

During the last decades, more and more evidences have been showing that drinking booze can enhance the possibility of developing seven types of cancer, including larynx, breast, liver, and bowel. However, there have been some controversies over whether the consumption of alcohol is the reason that causes the mutations leading to tumor development.

To such question, a latest research, released in the new edition of Nature, seems to have shown at least one way in which this could happen. Scientists made mice have diluted alcohol, and then had the analysis of their chromosomes to see if there could be any damage to find. They discovered that one of the substances produced as our bodies break down alcohol, known as acetaldehyde, physically breaks and damages the DNA held within blood stem cells.

Researchers also discovered that the chromosomes in the blood stem cells rearranged, and that the DNA sequence was permanently changed. It is very important, because when the genetic code of stem cells gets scrambled, the alteration can lead to the cells mutating and causing cancer.

Professor Ketan Patel, who has offered some assistance to implementation of this newest study, said that some cancers developed due to DNA damage in stem cells and while some damage happened accidentally. Their research demonstrated  that drinking alcohol could enhance the risk of this damage.

Our bodies already have a line of defense against the potentially dangerous acetaldehyde in the form of a group of enzymes called aldehyde dehydrogenases (ALDH), which break it down as soon as it is formed. But some people lack these enzymes, those from East Asia in particular, causing what is known as Asian flush.

To mimic this, the scientists created mice that lacked a key ALDH enzyme to test the way in which the build-up of acetaldehyde affected the rodents. They discovered that these altered mice experienced four times as much DNA damage as those with the enzyme, making it possible that those who lack ALDH might face a higher risk of cancer if they drink alcohol, and potentially explaining the reason why people of Chinese heritage have an increased rate of oesophageal cancer.

Although Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz, who is Professor of Mammalian Development and Stem Cell Biology at the University of Cambridge, was not involved in this research, but he much was impressed by it . In her assessment of this project, she said that such marvellous work has allowed scientists to explore, on the molecular basis, the link between alcohol and increased cancer risk and stem cells.

Clearly, if you could decrease your alcohol consumption, your risk of developing certain cancers would be much reduced and scientists will now be able to explore further avenues.

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