In recent news, the Center for Cancer Research have recently discovered a previously unknown phenomenon, which allows certain cells to continue through the cell cycle despite experiencing DNA damage. This also includes past natural safety checkpoints within the cell cycle that are designed to stop the problem from occurring. On January 13, 2021 researchers, in Science Advances, suggested that the timing of DNA damage was crucial for determining whether a faulty cell would survive the cycle.

When cells begin to divide and replicate as part of their natural cycle, they transition from their resting state to one called the G1 phase. In this phase, cells have several important checkpoint mechanisms to ensure that the cell is healthy enough to proceed onto the next stage of the cell cycle. If/when these mechanisms fail due to genetic mutations, cells can progress through the G1 phase unobstructed, which can ultimately lead to cancer.

It was previously believed that cells with DNA damage could not pass through these safety checkpoints in the G1 phase and that the cells would either repair the DNA damage or die. However, scientists helped uncover evidence proving that cells with damaged DNA can actually progress past these critical checkpoints. A team of scientists studied individual cells for days at a time, using live cell time-lapse microscopy, single-cell tracking software, and fluorescent biosensors to detect the cell’s safety checkpoint mechanisms. They added a substance to induce DNA damage for cells of different ages in the cell cycle. Strikingly, the majority of cells seemed to ignore the DNA damage because they failed to trigger the checkpoint between G1 and the next phase, and proceeded into the next phase anyway.

Further investigation revealed that the timing of DNA damage during the cell cycle influenced the likelihood that damaged cells would slip past the checkpoints. The researchers found that the cell’s response to DNA damage is relatively slow compared to the speed of the cell cycle. This means if cells were already very close to the next phase of the cell cycle at the time DNA damage happened, they were more likely to continue into that phase. If the cells were still early in the G1 phase, they were more likely to revert back to a resting state. These observations are a form of inertia, where the cell will continue moving towards the next phase regardless of safety checkpoint signals.

It was also discovered that cells which were genetically identical were more likely to share the same cell cycle fate than non-identical cells. This suggests that factors specific to the cells themselves influence their fate during the cycle, rather than random chance. More studies are needed to understand how these findings apply to cancer. Testing is also extremely important in order to fully understand what the long-term consequences of the checkpoint failures are and find out if the cells that entered the next phase despite considerable DNA damage can become cancerous and eventually form a tumor, which, in my opinion and most likely the opinion of others, will be groundbreaking for cancer research.

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