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Monday, 10 July, 2000, 23:48 GMT 00:48 UK
Scientists discover cancer gene
Cancer research
Identifying cancer-causing genes could revolutionise treatment
Researchers in the US say they have discovered a family of genes that contributes to the growth of cancer in the body.

Scientists from Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland, say their discovery could help to develop treatments to fight a host of cancers including, leukaemia, lymphoma, breast, lung and prostate cancer.

Their work centred on the "myc" family of genes. Scientists have long known that these genes play a prominent role in tumour formation.

But the Johns Hopkins team focused on one member of that family, the c-myc. By doing this, they found that another gene, the HMG-I/Y gene is a key genetic "target" for tumour formation.

The team injected cells with increased HMG-I into mice and found they formed cancerous tumours. They also found that blocking the expression of the gene reversed abnormal growth of the tumour.

Dr Linda Resar, an assistant professor in the division of paediatric haematology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said this showed the gene may cause cancer. "Taken together, these findings suggest that HMG-I/Y genes may represent a new class of cancer-causing genes, or oncogenes."

The discovery could be particularly important in fighting the aggressive childhood cancer Burkitt's lymphoma.

This could point the way to new therapies for one of the most aggressive childhood cancers

Dr Linda Resar, Johns Hopkins University

Burkitt's lymphoma is one of the three major types of childhood non--Hodgkin's lymphomas.

The disease is characterised by rapidly growing abdominal tumours. However, it responds well to chemotherapy and has a 90% survival rate if the tumour has not spread beyond the abdomen.

New therapies

Dr Resar said: "When we blocked expression of this target gene in Burkitt's lymphoma cell lines, the cancer cells revert back to normal-appearing cells.

"This could point the way to new therapies for one of the most aggressive childhood cancers, as well as other cancers associated with increases in the HMG-I/Y gene."

Dr Joanna Reynolds, from the Cancer Research Campaign, said the discovery could lead scientists to develop new treatments.

"The gene is now a potential target for new cancer treatments particularly as blocking the expression of this gene appears to reverse abnormal growth."

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05 Jul 00 | Health
Attempt to detect cancer earlier
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