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Caffeinated suncream gives protection a boost

22 August 2011

By Dr Rosie Gilchrist

Appeared in BioNews 621

A new study has found that caffeine could help to block cancer formation in UV-sensitive mice by increasing the likelihood of damaged cells dying after sun exposure. The findings suggest caffeine could help protect against skin cancer by promoting the death of cells with damaged DNA.

'This study suggests the possibility that caffeine, possibly [applied to the skin], would have an inhibitory effect on sunlight-induced skin cancer', said Professor Allan Conney from Rutgers University in the USA who was involved in the study.

Several studies have previously found that drinking caffeinated drinks could help protect against various types of cancer, including UV-associated skin cancers. The current research helps explain why this appears to be so.

One of the known functions of caffeine is to suppress a protein called ataxia telangiectasia and Rad3-related (ATR). ATR is part of a mechanism that senses DNA damaged by, for example, UV light, and triggers DNA repair. If caffeine inhibits ATR, the study suggests this will encourage the damaged cells to self-destruct, preventing them from spreading or becoming cancerous.

The scientists developed genetically modified mice that were sensitive to UV light and produced little ATR. After 19 weeks of chronic exposure to UV, these mice had 69 percent fewer tumours than normal mice. Also, the tumours that did form seemed to be less invasive in the mice without ATR in the skin. By the end of the study, however, all mice had developed a common form of skin cancer, squamous-cell carcinoma.

The caffeine molecule itself can directly block some UV rays. 'Therefore adding it to sunscreens may make sense for two reasons - it's directly a sunscreen, and completely independently, it has this effect on ATR', said Dr Paul Nghiem, who led the research

However, Professor Dorothy Bennett from St George's, University of London, warned that there is still work to be done before caffeine should be added to sunscreens. 'One might want to check there is no adverse effect of caffeine on the incidence of other cancers, especially melanoma, which kills over four times as many people as [squamous-cell carcinoma]', she said.

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


14 October 2013 - by Dr Linda Wijlaars 
A specific gene variant more common in caucasian men that protects skin cells from UV damage has been associated with an increased risk of testicular cancer, a study has found...
15 May 2012 - by Dr Louisa Petchey 
Whole genome sequencing of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has confirmed the long held belief that greater sun exposure raises cancer risk by increasing the frequency of genetic mutation. The study also identifies one gene, PREX2, that is mutated in 14 percent of cases...
27 February 2012 - by Dr Louisa Petchey 
The European approval of a new gene-specific drug for an aggressive form of skin cancer marks another step towards an era of personalised medicine. A recent trial showed promising results, with the drug shrinking tumour size and extending life span...

03 May 2011 - by Dr Jay Stone 
US researchers have identified two genes that could explain why some of us are tempted to reach for those caffeine-packed drinks...
04 October 2010 - by Matthew Smart 
Researchers have found a molecule that they believe plays a key role in ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) - a potentially life-threatening condition that can arise from IVF treatment....
06 April 2010 - by Dr Sophie Pryor 
Consuming large volumes of soft drinks may lower mens' sperm count, suggest the results of a new Danish study....
09 March 2006 - by BioNews 
People who break down caffeine slowly could be increasing their risk of a heart attack if they drink large amounts of coffee, say Canadian researchers. The team, based at the University of Toronto, says that a genetic variation affecting caffeine breakdown in the body could help explain conflicting results on...
16 October 2003 - by BioNews 
Three new studies presented at the annual conference of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) last week suggest that body weight, caffeine and cannabis can all affect a man's sperm. Caffeine 'perks up' sperm, by making it swim faster, while cannabis, despite its initial effect being similar to that...

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