Did you know that DNA gets its own day? It’s today! National DNA Day has been celebrated for the past 15 years, since the human genome was sequenced.
But what is that mystery molecule? And how can we use the information stored inside DNA’s secret code to monitor and improve human health?
Below are five important facts about everyone’s favorite double helix:
1) DNA, short for deoxyribonucleic acid, is composed of four different bases. The four bases, abbreviated A, T, C and G, are repeated billions of times throughout your genome – the precise genetic code that makes you, you.
2) Most of the time, DNA can fix itself. Your body has intricate mechanisms to make sure that random mistakes in your DNA don’t end up causing bigger problems, like cancer. However, cancer cells are so “smart” that one of the ways they allow widespread DNA mutations is by turning off the machinery that normally repairs DNA damage.
3) Cancer can arise from alterations in your DNA, whether hereditary or random. There are two main types of DNA mutations, somatic and hereditary. As the name suggests, hereditary mutations come from your parents and can be passed on to your children, too. By contrast, somatic, or sporadic, mutations occur randomly, either by exposure to carcinogens, like cigarette smoke, or pure bad luck.
4) Genetic testing can help measure your risk of developing diseases like cancer. Based on someone’s family history, a genetic counselor or doctor can order tests to determine whether they have an inherited DNA mutation that may increase their risk of developing a disease, like pancreatic cancer. People who are deemed high risk for pancreatic cancer may be eligible for screening or surveillance programs to monitor them for the disease.
5) Changes within the tumor DNA may impact treatment options. Researchers now have the ability to molecularly profile tumors, which may determine the exact DNA, protein and other molecular changes that caused healthy cells to become cancerous. The good news is that this information can inform treatment decisions – specific changes within the tumor’s DNA may signify that a certain treatment option or clinical trial may be particularly effective for that patient.
Pancreatic cancer patients can have their tumors molecularly profiled through the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s Know Your Tumor® precision medicine service.
You can find more interesting information about DNA and National DNA Day from the National Human Genome Research Institute.