Something Slimy Slithering Through Cancer World

Cancer therapy targets being identified with nematode worms

(RxWiki News) We fish with them and they're good for our gardens; birds live off them and if you cut a part of their body off, it can still survive. What we're talking about here are worms. These slimy creatures are slithering through the cancer world to unearth new treatments.

Scientists working with nematode worms have discovered various genes that may become the targets of new anti-cancer therapies.

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One of the researchers involved in this slimy case is David S. Fay, PhD, a researcher involved in the work from the Molecular Biology Department at the University of Wyoming in Laramie.

"We hope that by carrying out basic genetic research on one of the most widely implicated human cancer genes, that we can contribute to the arsenal of diverse therapeutic approaches used to treat and cure many types of cancer,” Dr. Fay said.

Nematode worms are very small - about 1/10th of an inch in length and sometimes smaller.

For this experiment, Dr. Fay and colleagues worked with a strain of these worms that had mutations in a gene that's often turned off in many human cancers. In the worm world, this gene is called LIN-35 and in humans, it's the pRb gene.

Scientists believe this gene plays a role in various cancer growth operations, including tumor growth, progression and survival.

Researchers turned off other genes in the worms that had this genetic defect. This process showed researchers which genes reversed the damage caused by the mutant LIN-35. The genes identified could become targets for new anti-cancer drugs.

“This research is important because it offers possible new ways to shut down the genetic machinery that contributes to cancer growth and progression,” said Mark Johnston, PhD, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Genetics, where this study appeared in August.

“The causes of cancer are complex and varied, so we must approach this disease from many angles. Using simple ‘model organisms,’ such as nematode worms to find new drug targets, is becoming an increasingly important and effective strategy,” Dr. Johnston said.

The study was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. No conflicts of interest were reported.

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Review Date: 
August 9, 2012