A new protein has been discovered in humans which could play an important role in diagnosing cancer, scientists said today.
The protein, named hSSB1, helps repair damage to DNA which can indicate the presence of disease.
Researchers at the University of St Andrews and the Queensland Institute for Medical Research (QIMR) in Brisbane, Australia, found it binds to genetic material formed when DNA is damaged in the cell.
The protein is thought to work by signalling to other proteins that damage has occurred.
It was discovered by scientists as they searched the human genome, which contains all of the DNA that a person possesses, for ancient classes of protein.
Professor Malcolm White, of the University of St Andrews, said: “What we found was a key damage-detector protein.
“It looks for the damage in the cell and when it finds that damage it signals other proteins to repair the damage so they all work as a machine.
“Our research could have a diagnostic application and it is possible that detecting the protein could be a marker for cancer.
“This is because when there is DNA damage the amount of the protein increases.”
Dr Derek Richard, a former researcher at the University of St Andrews, who is now based at the QIMR, said: “The next challenge is to find out how the protein signals that DNA is damaged and determine if it plays a role in the development of cancer or in patients’ responses to chemotherapy and radiotherapy.”
The work was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
It is published in the online Nature journal.
DNA suffers constant damage from a wide range of factors and must be repaired efficiently to ensure that DNA damage is removed.
If repair is not completed, this damage can result in mutation, leading to cell death or cancer.