In laboratory experiments conducted on human cell lines at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, scientists have shown that people carrying certain mutations in two hereditary cancer genes, BRCA2 and PALB2, may have a higher than usual susceptibility to DNA damage caused by a byproduct of alcohol, called acetaldehyde.
The scientists say they suspect that the two genes in their normal forms evolved to protect cells against the damaging effects of acetaldehyde, which can lead to cancer.
While the scientists caution that the research is preliminary, they say their findings suggest that studies on disease risk factors should take into account these particular genetic variations and the use of alcohol.
"We need to identify which behaviors in certain populations increase disease risk, and keep in mind that our genetic susceptibility plays a large role in cancer risk," says Scott Kern, M.D ., the Everett and Marjorie Kovler Professor in Pancreas Cancer Research at Johns Hopkins.
Acetaldehyde (pronounced ah-set-AL-deh-hide) is produced during the metabolism of alcohol and is known to cause DNA damage. Scientists say the chemical is ubiquitous in nature, found in many sources, including apples and gut bacteria, and is responsible for the "hangovers" people experience after heavy alcohol use. Alcohol use has long been linked to cancers of the upper aerodigestive tract, breast, pancreas, and stomach.
After reading reports linking acetaldehyde and a related chemical, formaldehyde, to a rare cancer-susceptibility disease called Fanconi anemia (which is characterized by mutations in BRCA2 and other genes), Kern and his team took a closer look at the growth response of cells exposed to acetaldehyde and other compounds. The team created human cell lines that lacked BRCA2 and PALB2 genes.
"You can add any chemical to a cell culture and growth of the cells will go down, so the significant responses are ones that
|Contact: Vanessa Wasta|
Johns Hopkins Medicine