Discovery of cancer-causing gene can pave way to better therapies

January 24th, 2009 - 4:26 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Jan 24 (IANS) The discovery of the way in which a cancer-promoting gene accelerates the disease can potentially open the way to better or newer therapies. Until now, research has focussed on how the mutated gene, Myc, disrupts the ability of DNA to be “transcribed” into RNA - the first step in making proteins that are essential for cell growth and function.

But the new research shows that this altered Myc gene, called an oncogene, can also act directly on the final stage of protein production.

The finding in mice suggests that drugs already available to counter this increased protein production could slow or stop cancer’s runaway growth induced by Myc.

Rapamycin, for example, an immunosuppressant drug already in clinical trials for cancer, might help treat cancers where Myc is overactive, the scientists suggest.

The study was led by Davide Ruggero and Maria Barna, faculty scientists at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).

“Control of protein production rapidly affects cell behaviour, and in a robust manner,” explained Ruggero, assistant professor of urology.

“The ability of the Myc oncogene to directly alter this process may well explain the rapid progression of cancer formation,” he added.

Scientists have known for some time that when the Myc gene is mutated and becomes an oncogene, it interferes with the early steps in DNA activity in the cell nucleus. But how the oncogene affected the subsequent production of proteins, a step known as translation, was unknown, said a UCSF release.

“A cancer causing gene, such as Myc, regulates many distinct cellular processes, and that can make it very difficult to tease apart which ones are the most important for the cancer to progress,” said Barna.

“The key to our studies was the ability to generate novel genetic tools to halt Myc’s action on protein production. This demonstrates how essential this process is for cancer formation,” she added.

These findings were published in Nature.

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