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Promise and Progress - Alcohol Metabolite Could Increase Cancer Risk in Some People

Reprogramming Cancer Cells - The Story of Epigenetics
Issue No. 1

Alcohol Metabolite Could Increase Cancer Risk in Some People

Date: July 16, 2014

American Journal of Pathology, January 2014

Consuming alcohol could put those who have inherited mutations of two cancer-associated genes, BRCA2 and PALB2, at greater risk of developing cancer.  Kimmel Cancer Center researcher Scott Kern, M.D., the Everett and Marjorie Kovler Professor of Pancreas Cancer Research, explored genetic changes that increase how acetaldehyde, a byproduct that results as the body metabolizes alcohol, causes DNA damage.

Spurred by reports that linked acetaldehyde and a related chemical, formaldehyde, to Fanconi anemia, a rare disease characterized by mutations in BRCA2 and other genes and associated with cancer in those affected, Dr. Kern decided to take a closer look at the growth response of cells exposed to the chemical.  In particular, he was interested in the affect acetaldehyde might have on people who lacked BRCA2 and PALB2 genes.

Normal BRCA2 and PALB2 genes protect cells from toxicity of acetaldehyde, but his experiments in human cell lines suggest that people with mutations of these genes are more susceptible to DNA-damaging effects of the chemical that could accelerate cancer growth.

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