People with genetic disease at greater risk of sun damage, study finds

People with a rare genetic disease are up to 10 times more susceptible to sun damage, according to research.

Patients with Friedreich’s ataxia are at greater risk of developing skin cancer from harmful UVA rays because of high levels of free iron in their cells.

Scientists hope a new molecule designed to protect patients with the genetic disorder will be added to sun cream, which could also benefit people with Wolfram syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.

While most sun creams are effective against UVB rays they generally only protect against UVA rays through the reflective properties of the cream alone.

Cell damage caused by UVA rays is worsened in people with excess free iron in their mitochondria, tiny cellular structures which power a cell. This can lead to damage to DNA, protein and fats, and an increased risk of cell death and cancer.

The new molecule, designed by scientists at the University of Bath, King’s College London and Brunel University London, acts like a claw to scoop up excess iron particles within mitochondria, stopping them from amplifying UVA damage.

Dr Charareh Pourzand, from the University of Bath, said: “The damage you and I would get in our skin from, for example, 2.5 hours’ exposure to solar UVA would be four to 10 times higher for a patient with Friedreich’s ataxia.

“We hope that our findings can be ultimately translated to the people to give them a better quality of life, and that we can inspire other researchers to follow those avenues.”

Friedreich’s ataxia is an inherited condition that affects at least one in 50,000 people, according to the NHS.

Patients suffer debilitating symptoms, often having to use wheelchairs from a young age, and frequently die in early adulthood.

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