Researchers from the Australian National University (ANU) have uncovered that a protein in the immune system can be manipulated to help overcome colon cancer. The protein, Ku70, in its activated state, acts as a surveillance system, detecting signs of damaged DNA in our cells. The researchers found that the protein can “cool off” cancer cells and may be able to keep them in a dormant state.

The findings are published in Science Advances in an article titled, “Ku70 senses cytosolic DNA and assembles a tumor-suppressive signalosome.”

According to lead author Abhimanu Pandey, PhD, from ANU, the protein, known as Ku70, can be activated or “turned on” like a light switch by using a combination of new and existing drugs.

“DNA is the genetic code of life. Damaged DNA is a sign of danger that can turn healthy cells into cancer cells,” Pandey said.

Although the risk of developing bowel cancer is higher in people aged over 50, an increasing number of younger Australians are being diagnosed with the disease. One in nine new bowel cancer cases now occur in Australians under the age of 50.

Professor Si Ming Man, PhD, also from ANU, said future bowel cancer screening methods could include checking the levels of Ku70 in precancerous polyps, abnormal growths of tissue found in the colon, before healthy cells turn cancerous.

“Our research shows Ku70 is a good immune biomarker, meaning it helps us predict who will fare better or worse after being diagnosed with bowel cancer,” Man said.

“We know early detection and treatment is vital to overcoming not only bowel cancer, but potentially other cancers as well,” Man added.

“We hope the cancer research conducted at ANU helps raise awareness of cancer prevention, detection, and treatment on this important day.”

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