Sleeping Beauty Helps Uncover Colon Cancer

Colon cancer genes discovered

(RxWiki News) Who said fairy tales can't help battle cancer? A “Sleeping Beauty” has helped uncover what drives colon cancer.

Researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the Cancer Research-UK Cambridge Research Institute have used a jumping gene, dubbed "Sleeping Beauty," to cause genetic mutations, a process that identified genes associated with colon cancer. By uncovering the paths colon cancer uses to grow, new therapies can be developed to block those genes.

"Ask your oncologist about possible clinical trials you can participate in."

This Sleeping Beauty is man-made. It is a sequence of DNA that can be inserted into different parts of the DNA of a cell. Scientists can use this to alter the behavior of genes, discover new genes or understand how genes work.

Researchers used Sleeping Beauty like a detective in determining what genes play a role in colon cancer. Profiling cancer genes in mice, scientists compared these profiles to human tumors. Through this process, researchers were able to uncover 200 genes that played a role in the development of colon cancer.

Genes can play an active or passive role in the growth of cancer. Some genes, thanks to mutations, drive colon cancer growth while other genes down the line help promote growth once the cancer is established. The discovery of these 200 new genes will allow researchers to identify what role each gene plays and which genes interact with one another to fuel colon cancer.

For the researchers, they believe close to 50 mutated genes are in any given cancer cell but the identity of those genes and how many genes are in any cancer cell is unknown. According to Dr. Douglas Winton, of the Cancer Research-UK Cambridge Research Institute, this study helps uncover just how diverse the pool of genes that cause cancer is.

For Dr. Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, this study can help pave the way for new research. According to Dr. Walker, this research can help identify key genes that drive cancer development which can lead to targeted treatments. Future research can narrow the focus on a more general study like this, focusing on the 200 new genes and identifying if any are drivers of cancer.

This study was published in Nature Genetics.

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Review Date: 
November 8, 2011