Mouse study shows how alcohol may cause cancer

Mouse study shows how alcohol may cause cancer

The study, which was published January 3 in the journal Nature, took a precise look at how exposure to alcohol, and the compounds that result when the body breaks down alcohol, cause damage to chromosomes in blood stem cells. Studies have already shown drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing seven types of cancer - including such common types as breast, rectum and colon.

The research team also found that some people are more prone to alcohol-related DNA damage than other people.

Researchers in England conducted the study in mice, however, experts say that the mechanisms linking alcohol to DNA damage are the same in mice and men.

Alcohol damages the DNA of stem cells responsible for producing new blood, according to a mouse study which may explain the link between drinking and cancer, scientists said. They learned that a byproduct of alcohol metabolism dubbed acetaldehyde turns into poison which can dramatically affect the drinker's DNA.

They found that acetaldehyde can break and damage DNA within blood stem cells leading to rearranged chromosomes and permanently altering the DNA sequences within these cells.

In the study, the scientists focused on DNA damage in blood stem cells. They administered ethanol to these mice, and then observed how it disturbed the DNA of stem cells.

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Malcolm Alison, Professor of Stem Cell Biology at the Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London, added: "Drinkers beware: most of our organs and tissues have stem cells, immortal cells that replenish cells lost through the likes of old age throughout our lives". These enzymes break down harmful acetaldehyde into acetate, which our cells can use as a source of energy.

"While some damage occurs by chance, our findings suggest that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of this damage". The first layer is a protective enzyme called aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2), which prevents build-ups of acetaldehyde, and the second repairs the DNA damage.

In the study, when mice lacking a critical ALDH enzyme were given alcohol, their DNA suffered four times as damage compared with mice with a properly functioning version of the enzyme.

The body also has various DNA repair systems, which will fix and even reverse different types of DNA damage most of the time. But they don't always work and some people carry mutations which mean their cells aren't able to carry out these repairs effectively.

The research was funded by Cancer Research UK, Wellcome and the Medical Research Council.

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