Scientists from Dublin and England have made a ground-breaking discovery that will allow a “crystal” clear view of DNA damage, advancing further research in the fields of cancer medicine and drug development.

The collaborative group of scientists from University College Dublin (UCD), Trinity College Dublin (TCD), the University of Reading and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in England, have developed a significant new technique in researching the initial steps of DNA oxidation – a process believed to be linked with some diseases and cancers.

The new technique uses DNA in crystals to heighten the clarity at which the oxidation process can be viewed. Prior to this, any such research on DNA and its interaction with small molecules such as drugs has been carried out using DNA in solution.

It is believed the new crystallization technique, however, will now pave the way for further discoveries in cancer medicine and drug development.

The new research, published in leading international journal Nature Chemistry, explains the crystallography technique and how it will progress studies of other systems where the location of the drug is defined.

“This is an important step in our collaborative work to understand the action of DNA-targeting compounds when they are taken up by cancer cells,” said Professor John Kelly from the School of Chemistry at TCD

Lead author of the study Dr. Susan Quinn from the School of Chemistry at UCD believes that the results of the study are very exciting as they “demonstrate the ability to follow the flow of electrons from an individual DNA base to a bound molecule whose exact position is known and this is an enormous advantage in the study of the early events that lead to oxidative DNA damage.”

The current study is also believed to light the way for direct UV excitation of DNA in crystals which would, in turn, help in the understanding of the processes behind DNA photo-damage, a chemical reaction that normally takes place in less than a billionth of a second.

The breakthrough is thanks to the specific expertise of each collaborator in the the research; the Irish teams have extensive experience in the ultrafast study of DNA, the University of Reading is a world-leader in the X-ray crystallographic analysis of DNA using the Diamond facility and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory has developed extremely sensitive systems for the study of such ultra-fast chemical reactions (as low as a million-millionth of a second.)