Thursday, December 22, 2011

Single gene can cause many forms of cancer

Cancer is found in many forms with many underlying causes. Because each cell in the body can potentially grow out to form a tumour, and there are various mechanisms that allow a cell to grow in an uncontrolled fashion, cancer is actually a large collection of diseases. Though, scientists from the University of British Columbia have revealed that various rare forms of cancer have the same underlying cause. This does not only help us to create a novel therapy, but also makes it more relevant by targeting many forms of the disease.

The researchers found that a defect in the gene for a protein called Dicer is the culprit. It seems to responsible for rare forms of ovarian, testicular and uterine cancers. Because Dicer has a wide array of functions, even a small mutation can cause trouble in the body. The protein was already implicated in cancer, but this is the first time scientists prove it actually forms the underlying pathology.

Dicer is a protein that cuts up molecules called MicroRNAs. These are small DNA-like molecules that function by inhibiting the expression of genes. These 'silencers' play an important role in the body, and Dicer is found to control hundreds of them. This highlights why small changes can have big consequences. If you have to cut up hundreds of molecules, even a small change in the protein's structure can affect the cell so much it turns into a cancer cell.

Future studies
While Dicer is implicated in rare forms of cancer, it may also be relevant for more common cancers. Because of its functions, it is likely Dicer also plays a role in more common cancers, in which we have already found a set of culprits responsible. We may also harness the function of Dicer to treat cancer patients, even if it is not found to be dysfunctional: increasing its activity may be beneficial for keeping the cells under control. It controls so many cellular pathways that careful modulation may be beneficial for a wide array of cancer forms.

No comments:

Post a Comment