A complete understanding of the genetic replication process would allow scientists to find out precisely how diseases such as cancer originate.
Led by Prof. David Gilbert and post-doctoral researcher Ben Pope, the team have examined in depth how DNA and associated genetic material is organized and replicated within the nucleus of a cell.
In certain diseases, such as cancer, this process is disrupted. A greater understanding of the process would enable doctors and medical researchers to learn more about these diseases, and in turn could lead to new treatment options.
Cancer is one of the most common human genetic diseases. The disease begins when cells with damaged DNA in one part of the body grow and continue to replicate, when normally defective cells would die.
"Why does this process exist? Why is it awry in diseases? That's why this research is important for us as a society," explains Prof. Gilbert.
The paper, published in Nature, is a companion piece to a larger project - also worked on by Gilbert and Pope - called ENCODE, the encyclopedia of DNA elements. The aim of the project is to identify all the functional elements of the human genome. Funding for the project comes from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
This multi-university project previously conducted a comprehensive examination of the mouse genome. The review found a number of similarities and differences between the mouse genome and the human genome.
There are still parts of the human genome that have not been fully explored; "blind spots" that some gene-reading technology is unable to register fully. Revealing the processes and genes within these gaps in current knowledge are key to the development of future disease treatments.
'Fundamental first step' has been made
Within their new paper, Gilbert, Pope and their team carried out an in-depth investigation of the genetic replication process. Their aim was to identify the units by which the genetic material was replicated.
Previous research had indicated that replication occurred at regular intervals, but the team was still in the dark as to where the boundaries for replication were. "The fundamental first step in understanding a new phenomenon in nature is to identify the units of regulation," says Prof. Gilbert, "and we finally have that."
Now that they have grasped one of the primary aspects of genetic replication, the researchers want to continue their research and discover why the process works as it does, along with what factors can lead to its disruption.
"The process is well conserved in many species, suggesting it's critical, but we really don't know why," says Pope. "More research will help us understand why this process is disrupted in cancer and other diseases."
According to experts, expanding further on the findings of the study could potentially lead specifically to new treatment options for cancer and other conditions that are treated with stem cell-based therapies.
Any research breakthroughs in this field of research can lead to great advances. It is hoped that this latest development in the study of the human genome could indeed lead to medical advances, particularly in the ongoing fight against cancer.
Recently, Medical News Today reported on another study, published in Science, in which scientists discovered a key step in how cells copy their chromosomes during division that could also be useful for cancer research.