Nottingham UniversityCancer is a debilitating and a life-threatening disease. Scientists are conducting experiments round the clock to help find a way to diagnose this disease in the initial stage. Well, here’s a discovery that seems to have got them a step closer.

Study authors from the University of Nottingham claim to have uncovered that a group of genetic rogue elements, generated by DNA sequences generally called ‘junk DNA’, may possibly assist in identifying breast and bowel cancer. The study was headed by Cristina Tufarelli in the School of School of Graduate Entry Medicine and Health Sciences.

The scientist apparently found that around 7 of these defective genetic elements, named chimeric transcripts appeared to be more prevalent in breast cancer cells. It was observed that roughly 5 cells were seen in breast cancer whereas the other 2 were noted in both normal as well as breast cancer cells. These rogue elements are alleged to be generated by DNA sequences known as LINE-1 (L1). Inspite of being tagged as ‘junk DNA’ it seems to be quite obvious that few of these sequences appear to have significant functions in the genome like influencing when genes are turned on.

L1s supposedly carry a switch that could indiscriminately switch on close by genes. When genes are incorrectly turned on in this manner, they apparently construct the genetic rogue elements that may disrupt the usual performance of cells. To avert the likely destructive consequences of these rogue elements, normal cells are said to hush L1s with a chemical ‘off switch’. In cancerous cells this ‘off switch’ could be frequently absent, thus resulting in the generation of these genetic rogue elements.

Dr Tufarelli, a lecturer at the University who has also received funding from a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellowship, commented, “This study has generated new research tools to investigate the role of ‘junk DNA’ in cancer development. The next step is to find out if the switching on of these genes is driving cancer or if they are a result of the cancer. Even if they are innocent bystanders of cancer they could be useful biomarkers helping us to diagnose or monitor the disease.”

Dr Tufarelli added, “If this ‘junk DNA’ does turn out to play a role in cancer then we could be at the tip of the iceberg in understanding a completely new mechanism behind the disease. If we do find out that they are playing a role then they could be useful targets for new treatments.”

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, remarked, “These really interesting findings are the most comprehensive study of these transcripts that have ever been carried out. We are learning more about the genes involved in cancer but these so-called ‘junk’ regions receive relatively little attention. We are beginning to see that they could play a really important role.”

The experts expanded their investigations to observe two bowel cancer cell lines. Around two of the genetic rogue elements were said to be discovered in invasive bowel cancer cell lines, but not in the pre-invasive cells, thereby proposing that these sequences may possibly play a function in cancer progression.

The study was published in Genomics Journal.