Oxygen breathes fresh air into fight against cancer
Thursday, 18 December 2003
University of Adelaide researchers have made a breakthrough in the understanding of how our body "senses" oxygen, which may lead to improvements in the treatment of cancer, stroke, and heart attack.
Dr Daniel Peet and Dr Murray Whitelaw at the university's Centre for Molecular Genetics of Development have identified a key "oxygen sensor" that determines how the body senses and responds to changes in oxygen levels, most importantly low oxygen.
"To sustain life, mammals have an absolute and continual requirement for oxygen," says Dr Peet, who is the W. Bruce Hall Fellow of the Cancer Council of South Australia.
Too much oxygen can be detrimental to our body by producing harmful free radicals which are responsible for aging our tissues, and too little can trigger off cancer, cause stroke or heart attack.
Only low oxygen levels cause "oxygen sensors" to be turned on.
Low oxygen levels in the human body are dangerous. Mountain climbers at high altitudes may experience acute mountain sickness, and excess fluid in the lungs and brain caused by lower amounts of oxygen in the air. If not treated, such syndromes may be fatal.
With cancer, low oxygen at the centre of tumours will stimulate the growth of new blood vessels and encourage tumour growth.
In heart attack and stroke victims, blood clots cause blockages in vessels preventing blood flow and oxygen delivery.
"The identity of oxygen sensors has remained a mystery until now," Dr Whitelaw says.
"Our research has advanced worldwide knowledge in oxygen sensing and this information may prove important in the therapeutic treatment of cancer, heart attack and stroke."
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Dr Murray Whitelaw
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Dr Stephanie Agius
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