Researchers have discovered a cell mechanism that delays and repairs DNA damage that can potentially lead to cancer.

The study, published in Nature Cell Biology, claims the mechanism protects us from natural DNA errors, which could permanently damage our genetic code and lead to diseases such as cancer.

It gives human cells a chance to stop piling up mutations when cells replicate and divide in the body, and could prove to be very useful in the development of new treatments against cancer.

The study also shows how specialised proteins engulf and protect the damaged DNA and ‘escort’ it until the damage can be repaired. The researchers discovered that this process relies on precise timing and meticulous control inside the cells.

"We have discovered a specific mechanism in human cells that delay propagation of DNA damage in successive generations of dividing cells. This discovery helps us understand how our bodies protect themselves from many types of cancer," says Professor Jiri Lukas, head of the Chromosome Stability and Dynamics Group.

The human body consists of billions of cells which continuously renew themselves through cell division, also known as DNA replication. All cells in the body hold genetic information that determines how new cells are formed. However, if the genetic material has been damaged, a cell may mutate and develop into cancer.