All superheroes have their kryptonite – for TitaniumAmy, think sunlight (though any toxin or virus could do similar damage). Ultraviolet rays can cause damage to DNA. DNA is in the nucleus of every cell, and contains the super secret code for building and maintaining life.
When DNA is damaged, the secret code gets messed up and cannot be read, so the cell cannot function according to its master plan. Fortunately, cells have a backup plan for this called nucleotide excision repair (NER).
The NER process begins by identifying the spot where damage exists. It sets markers a bit before and a bit after the damage to isolate it. It then “unwinds” the DNA and snips out the damage. It uses the healthy side of the DNA strand to create a patch that contains the correct code and uses this to fill the gap before sealing the DNA back up. Crazy, huh?
For someone like TitaniumAmy, the process doesn’t work correctly – her DNA doesn’t unwind itself. So damage stays in the DNA strand…like kryptonite. The secret code can be neither read nor copied properly, and cells die. This leads to premature aging of body systems, and also causes an increased risk for cancer.
Batman has his Batcave. The Avengers assemble in Tony Stark’s tower. TitaniumAmy flies off to the NIH to consult with her support crew of mad scientists (well, not really mad, but it fits better with the theme). The NIH team is trying to understand better how different genes contribute to the NER process, and hopefully discover desperately needed treatments and even cures. So, that’s why we are headed back next week – to check in, see how things have (or haven’t!) changed in a year, meet some new doctors, and contribute to changing the world.
Watch out, Kryptonite! TitaniumAmy and the NIH crew are on the case!