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Thursday, 18 January, 2001, 00:35 GMT
Cancer gene breakthrough
Scientist carrying out research
Research will help beat particularly aggressive cancers
Scientists think they may have discovered what makes some cancers fast-growing and harder to treat than others.

Doctors say the breakthrough could be used to help beat particularly aggressive cancers that are resistant to chemotherapy drugs effective on many other tumours.

Dr Mary Berrington, science information manager at the Cancer Research Campaign said the work by American scientists would mean good news for patients.

"This type of research will in the medium-term lead to tests that help doctors identify those cancers that are unlikely to respond well to standard treatments, allowing treatment to be increasingly tailored to the individual cancer."

Genetic abnormalities

Dr Berrington said cells with genetic abnormalities, such as the wrong number of chromosomes, did tend to be more aggressive than others and that this made them harder to treat.

This type of research will in the medium-term lead to tests that help doctors identify those cancers that are unlikely to respond well to standard treatments

Dr Marry Berrington, Cancer Research Campaign

In a paper published in Nature, researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, in New York, reveal that they have discovered that low levels of a protein dubbed MAD2 make cancer cells genetically unstable.

They say the presence of this protein may indicate tumours that are likely to be fast-spreading.

The researchers say that MAD2 tells cells to stop dividing to ensure that the chromosomes are equally distributed.

But when levels are low this does not happen, causing the chromosome abnormalities which have been linked to aggressive cancers.

Aggressive cancers

They hope their research findings can be used to develop a similar test to see how the disease progresses in the human body.

Researcher Michel Loren said doctors would be able to do a simple test to look at the chromosomes to decide whether or not a cancer is aggressive and likely to respond to treatment.

"One of the things that happens in cancer is that cells often have abnormal chromosome numbers. This is one of the earliest demonstrations of a singular molecular defect that can result in numerous other changes," he said.

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