October, Cyclones and Cancer Research

October 14, 2013

As Cyclone Phailin made its landfall in Andhra, and Odisha in India on Saturday, like most people I too found myself hoping and praying that the devastation caused by it would be minimal. 

As I write this piece, I’m relieved to learn that while there have been a few casualties, the overall scenario has been one which can best be described as ‘being in control under the circumstances'. As to what has made the critical difference between the death, devastation and misery caused by the earlier cyclone which struck India in 1999, I clearly pinpoint it to a sense of preparedness and a nationwide alert informing all concerned about the impending disaster. Even more than that, taking immediate and responsible measures to ensure that all the identified areas  were evacuated, with the residents from those areas being taken to safe areas.

I’m following a site called India Real Time to get all the latest updates and you can access it at http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2013/10 /12/live-blog-cyclone-phailin/. While there is not much we can do about it as we wait for the cyclone to pass, there is some comfort in knowing that people have been moved to safety. As to what will follow in terms of monetary losses, only time will tell us. This is also a moment when I can’t help but recall Cyclone Gonu and Phet which hit us in Oman in June 2007 and 2010 and made us realise that while man has made tremendous progress in science, and technology, nature’s fury is something that can at best be never entirely done away with. This is also a moment in time for me to pause and thank God that we are all still alive and healthy.

On another note October is breast cancer awareness month and there will be many events worldwide to show support and raise funds. Don't miss out on the chance to make a difference. The Oman Cancer Association (OCA) will be holding its annual walkathon at Qurum Natural Park on October 29 from 4pm. The association will promote the walkathon at Muscat City Centre, Qurum City Centre, Jawharat A'Shatti and Muscat Grand Mall from October 24 to 26 to encourage people to be a part of the event.

Even if you haven’t managed to register so far, just head to the venue on the day and join in. The OCA needs all of you and take it from me, the sense of satisfaction after completing this walk is tremendous!

Over the last few decades there has been major progress made in the field of cancer treatment and research and this report is something that I wanted to share with all. According to a press release issued by the Cancer Research UK on October 10, there is a new role for the DNA unraveler in preventing brain tumours and other cancers. A molecule originally implicated in DNA repair may also be a crucial factor in preventing tumours such as ‘medubellastoma’, a type of childhood brain tumour according to research published in Science magazine. The molecule called RETL I is known to be responsible for maintaining the ends of our chromosomes, the structures that contain the genetic material DNA. Now, Cancer Research scientists have discovered that it also plays a critical role throughout the entire genome.

Dr Simon Boulton and his team based at the charity’s London Research Institute found that RTEL works together with another molecule called PCNA. Like a hair tie, RTEL I helps PCNA as it forms a ring around the DNA allowing it to remove knots and untangle DNA as it gets copied. This process is essential for  correctly copying DNA so that cells can grow and divide without making genetic mistakes. When RTEL contains a fault, preventing it from binding to PCNA, DNA replication is disrupted and mistakes are made which can lead to cancer.

Previous studies had shown that there was a potential link between RTEL 1 and brain cancers, though it wasn’t understood why. This study confirms that RTEL1 is definitively involved in preventing cancer by stopping mistakes from being made during the DNA replication. Dr Simon Boulton was recently named as one of the recipients of the 2013 Paul Marks Prize for cancer research from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in the US. Dr Kate Arney, of the Cancer Research said that ‘Unraveling the inner workings of cancer cells is essential if we are to truly make progress in beating cancer. And it could open the door to future approaches for prevention, diagnosis or treatment'.

On that very positive note, I’d like to wish all of you ‘Eid Mubarak’ and Happy Holidays!