Research led by Professor Ketan Patel (Department of Medicine, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology), known as KJ to friends and colleagues, has shown how alcohol damages DNA in stem cells, helping to explain why drinking increases the risk of cancer. In the study published in Nature last week, the researchers gave diluted alcohol to mice. They then used chromosome analysis and DNA sequencing to examine the genetic damage caused by acetaldehyde, a harmful chemical produced when the body processes ethanol. They found that acetaldehyde can break and damage DNA within blood stem cells leading to rearranged chromosomes and permanently altering the DNA sequences within these cells. This is important because when healthy stem cells become faulty, they can give rise to cancer.
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