Using mice, scientists have uncovered how accelerated ageing in blood cells can lead to an increased risk of blood cancer.
Ageing is a major risk factor for cancer, as ageing cells and tissues are less effective at fighting off cancer cells, but how this happens has not been well understood.
A UK study at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine (MRC WIMM), University of Oxford, and the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute (CSCI), University of Cambridge, found that the accumulation of formaldehyde in the body – a toxic gas widely used in industry – can damage the DNA of blood stem cells, causing them to age.
The body has natural defences against the effects of formaldehyde, but to investigate how the chemical can build up over a lifetime, the team studied mice that lacked these defences – as reported by Cancer Research UK.
Rapid formaldehyde accumulation led to faster ageing, with the blood stem cells of eight-week-old mice resembling those of two-year-old mice. The researchers also showed that this ageing ‘trigger’ was a protein called p53.
Meng Wang at CSCI said: “.. knowing that this specific chemical is causing the damage is actually really exciting because it means there is something that we can potentially target.”