Science Questions

Can medication change your DNA?

Sun, 13th May 2012

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john asked:

Can medication change your DNA?


Answered by Marianne Baker, Barts Cancer Institute.

Most drugs act on proteins - the molecules in our cells that do particular jobs - so they don’t change your underlying DNA. But some can act on DNA - for example many chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin, damage DNA and make cancer cells die. But they can also damage DNA in healthy cells too, causing side effects. Some other new cancer drugs in development are designed to change the molecular ‘tags’ on your DNA, known as methylation and acetylation, affecting how genes are switched on or off. While DNA-altering drugs will usually just kill cells in your body rather than just causing long-term changes, there are more serious consequences if women take them while pregnant.  The controversial drug thalidomide can also affect DNA, causing birth defects if it’s taken by pregnant women, and there are other examples of drugs that can also have this effect and must be avoided in pregnancy.


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john asked the Naked Scientists: Can medication change your DNA? What do you think? john, Sun, 27th Nov 2011

NO...  BUT...

Typical medications like aspirin have little effect on DNA.  However, there are new medical treatments that might specifically target DNA.

For example one branch of medical research is to use viruses to deliver DNA to certain cells, and thus actually changing the DNA in those cells.

Another branch of medical research is to design drugs that regulate the expression of genes on DNA.  Not actually changing the DNA, but changing how the DNA is being read.

One treatment for prostate cancer is seeding the prostrate with radioactive seeds.  It isn't something that you would take orally, but rather a surgical procedure with the goal of damaging the DNA of cancer cells.

One of the more serious side-effects of medicine is mutagens or teratogens.  Normally one thinks of mutagens with respect to fetal development.  Thalidomide is an example of a serious mutagen.  However, it doesn't necessarily change the DNA, but rather affects the expression of genes during critical developmental steps. CliffordK, Thu, 1st Dec 2011

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