How cancer develops resistance to treatment - June 2020

Cancer cells can turn on error-prone DNA copy pathways to adapt to cancer treatment, a breakthrough study published in the journal Science has revealed. Bacteria use the same process, termed stress-induced mutagenesis, to develop antibiotic resistance.

The cells of the human body are constantly dividing, and each time need to copy a three billion-letter DNA code with high precision to ensure cell survival. The same is not true for cancers, researchers have discovered.

A team led by Professor David Thomas at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research has shown how a broad range of cancers, including melanoma, pancreatic cancer, sarcomas and breast cancer, generate a high number of errors when they copy their DNA when exposed to cancer treatments, leading to drug resistance.

“Resistance to treatment is arguably the major issue facing patients with advanced cancers, for whom even effective treatments ultimately fail. We have uncovered a fundamental survival strategy that cancer cells use to develop resistance, and which has given us new possible therapeutic strategies,” says Professor Thomas

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