Scientists identify master control gene to suppress cancer

February 24th, 2009 - 2:52 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Feb 24 (ANI): Expression of a master control gene called Ato in fruit flies, and ATOH1 in mammals, can suppress cancer, according to scientists at VIB and K. U. Leuven.

The researchers say that these genes, when switched off, may cause cancer in fruit flies, mice, and humans.

They, however, add that it possible to switch the genes on again with drugs.

While all cells in an organism are meant for some specific functions, cancer is a collection of cells without a function, which grow when normal genetic controls of cell division are interrupted.

And as cancer cells are less differentiated than normal cells, the researchers hypothesised that the final steps of differentiation prevent cells from becoming cancerous.

In the new study led by Wouter Bossuyt and Bassem Hassan, the researchers tested the above theory and demonstrated that in the fruit fly, master control genes steering the specialization step inhibit tumour formation.

They demonstrated that loss of one of those genes, Atonal homolog 1 (ATOH1), causes colon cancer in mice.

The gene regulates the last step in the specialization to epithelial cells of the colon, and the researchers have shown that humans with colon cancer frequently have an inactivated ATOH1 gene.

It was possible for researchers to reactivate the gene in human colon cancer cells grown in culture, which in turn caused the tumour cells to stop growing and commit suicide.

The finding indicated that the gene could be switched back on in living patients to target their cancers.

The researchers are currently working towards developing a cancer therapy by incorporating the above findings.

The findings have been reported in two papers in the leading online open access journal PLoS Biology. (ANI)

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