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Rapid analysis of DNA damage now possible
Date:5/3/2010

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Our DNA is under constant siege from a variety of damaging agents. Damage to DNA and the ability of cells to repair that damage has broad health implications, from aging and heritable diseases to cancer. Unfortunately, the tools used to study DNA damage are quite limited, but MIT researchers have developed a new tool for rapid DNA damage analysis that promises to make an impact on human health.

The researchers, led by Bevin Engelward, MIT associate professor of biological engineering, and Sangeeta Bhatia, professor in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology and MIT's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, have produced a completely revamped version of a three-decades-old lab test known as the comet assay. This new technique combines the versatility and sensitivity of the comet assay for DNA damage analysis with a robust high-capacity platform, which could make DNA damage analysis routine across a variety of applications, ranging from epidemiology to drug screening.

Engelward, Bhatia, postdoctoral fellow David Wood and graduate student David Weingeist describe the technique in a paper that will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of May 3.

The technology could offer a new approach for epidemiologists to detect dangerous environmental exposures long before they cause cancer, for clinicians to provide better cancer treatment, and for researchers in the pharmaceutical industry to identify new drugs and screen out hazardous drugs.

How they did it: The comet assay is based on the idea that during gel electrophoresis, a commonly used lab test in which an electric field is applied to DNA placed on a polymer gel, damaged DNA moves farther across the gel than undamaged DNA. The result is a "comet" made of DNA, which looks remarkably like its astronomical namesake. The assay is both sensitive and versatile, but it is also laborious and
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Contact: Jennifer Hirsch
jfhirsch@mit.edu
617-253-1682
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Source:Eurekalert

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