Your DNA doesn’t stand idly by as its damaged; it fights back. MIT News reports on a new test that can test the DNA repair systems that do the fighting:

The effectiveness of these repair systems varies greatly from person to person; scientists believe that this variability may explain why some people get cancer while others exposed to similar DNA-damaging agents do not. A team of MIT researchers has now developed a test that can rapidly assess several of these repair systems, which could help determine individuals’ risk of developing cancer and help doctors predict how a given patient will respond to chemotherapy drugs.

The new test, described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, can analyze four types of DNA repair capacity simultaneously, in less than 24 hours. Previous tests have been able to evaluate only one system at a time.

“All of the repair pathways work differently, and the existing technology to measure each of those pathways is very different for each one. It takes expertise, it’s time-consuming, and it’s labor-intensive,” says Zachary Nagel, an MIT postdoc and lead author of the PNAS paper. “What we wanted to do was come up with one way of measuring all DNA repair pathways at the same time so you have a single readout that’s easy to measure.” Continue reading at MIT News

If you would like to learn more, Zachary Nagel has a course on OCW called DNA Wars: How the Cell Strikes Back to Avoid Disease after Attacks on DNA. This Advanced Undergraduate Seminar from MIT’s Biology Department will introduce you the primary literature on this topic.