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14 June 2017

 

Scientists have made further discoveries about "gene switchers", or gene enhancers, which are sections of DNA outside of the genes that control gene activity.

A gene can have many enhancers, meaning it can be activated by different signals in different tissues in the body. Individual differences in these gene enhancers affect a person's vulnerability to diseases such as cancer.

Professor Jussi Taipale and colleagues at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden used laboratory mice to analyse a large gene switch region linked to the risks of developing a wide range of cancers include chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, myeloma and prostate, breast and colon cancer.

They explain that this region accounts for many more cases of cancer than inherited mutations in cancer-causing genes. In lab tests, the scientists removing this region from the mouse genome, turning the gene switches off. This did not affect normal mouse development and growth, but it lowered levels of the nearby cancer gene Myc.

These mice were found to be strongly resistant to the development of breast and intestinal tumours.

The team say this suggests a possible avenue for new highly specific cancer drugs that removes gene switch regions.

Findings were published last week in eLife. Professor Taipale says: 'Since we find that the growth of normal and cancer cells is driven by different gene switches, we can in principle aim at switching off the system for growth only in the cancer cells without any harmful effect on the growth of normal cells.

'This can lead to the development of highly specific approaches for cancer therapy with much lower toxic side effects.'

Source: Dave, K. et al. Mice deficient of Myc super-enhancer region reveal differential control mechanism between normal and pathological growth. eLife 6 June 2017; doi: 10.7554/eLife.23382

Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.7554/eLife.23382

 

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