Researchers at Cambridge University say they have observed four-sided DNA at work in the human body, a discovery which could lead to new novel treatment to stop the proliferation of cancer cells.

A paper published today in Nature Chemistry is said to prove that quadruple helix DNA structures, also known as G-quadruplexes, exist within the human genome.

Previously, G-quadruplexes were only thought to exist in-vitro, and not linked to nature itself.

DNA structures are usually only known as a double helix, which was originally discovered sixty years ago in 1953, also at Cambridge University.

The research, which is funded by Cancer Research UK, is said to show clear links between concentrations of four-stranded quadruplexes and the process of DNA replications that is pivotal to cell division and production.

Cambridge researchers believe that by targeting these quadruplexes with synthetic molecules that trap and contain these DNA structures, ultimately blocking cell division, they can possibly halt cell proliferation at the root of cancer.

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University of Cambridge, Department of Chemistry and Cambridge Research Institute study leader Professor Shankar Balasubramanian said; "We are seeing links between trapping the quadruplexes with molecules and the ability to stop cells dividing, which is hugely exciting.

"The research indicates that quadruplexes are more likely to occur in genes of cells that are rapidly dividing, such as cancer cells. For us, it strongly supports a new paradigm to be investigated – using these four-stranded structures as targets for personalised treatments in the future."

Professor Balasubramanian said the next step for his team is to figure out how to target these DNA structures in tumour cells.

Image: Structure of a G-quadruplex which has for the first time been observed in the human body.