Researchers find genes that affect radiation damage
* Findings could improve cancer treatments
* Researchers hope to protect patients better
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Researchers have identified a batch of genes that affect how the human body responds to radiation, and said Monday this might help doctors fine-tune radiation therapy for diseases such as cancer.
Some of the 1,200 or so genes were not known to be involved in a cell's reaction to stress such as radiation, said Vivian Cheung of the University of Pennsylvania, who led the study.
She said it may be possible to identify people most likely to have bad side effects from radiation and to protect them, perhaps by lowering the dose.
"Radiation is just like many other agents where people's response really differs," Cheung said in a telephone interview.
They used a library of cells donated by 30 unrelated people for research and irradiated them with cesium, which is often used medically.
The DNA expression, or activity, varied markedly from one person to another, Cheung and colleagues reported in Nature.
"Some of them went up and some of them went down," Cheung said.
Some were so-called transcription factors, which control the activity of other genes, but others were not associated with radiation before.
"These results have implications for our basic and clinical understanding of how human cells respond to radiation," Cheung's team wrote.
Not only will doctors eventually be able to use this information to protect patients, but it may lead to the development of drugs that can help radiation work better against tumors, the researchers said.
(Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Vicki Allen)