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Page last update: 25/12/2008

Disease, research: scientists uncover genetic key to ovarian cancer

UK researchers have found a gene that may have the power to arrest the spread of ovarian cancer, the ‘silent killer’ threatening thousands of European women each year.

A team of scientists from Cancer Research UK have identified a gene – reported in the journal Nature Genetics – which they found to be ‘switched off’ in 90% of the 118 women with ovarian cancer they examined. The suppressor gene, known only as OPCML, is ‘turned on’ in normal cells.

The Edinburgh-based researchers found that inserting the fully activated gene into ovarian cancer cells grown in the lab halted the growth of the tumour cells. “This is a very important discovery in identifying what seems to be a key tumour suppressor gene,” Hani Gabra, team leader at Cancer Research UK's oncology unit in Edinburgh, was quoted as saying.

“We found that these genes are frequently switched off at very early stages of the disease and fail to make essential proteins. But when we switched these genes back on in the cancer cells, tumours [were] suppressed,” she added.

Safety in numbers against ‘silent killer’
This exciting find could pave the way to the development of an effective treatment for the deadly condition which is responsible for the death of over 4 000 women in the UK alone each year.

Cancers usually develop when, rather than dying, damaged cells continue to divide into new cells indefinitely. Gabra and her team believe that this anti-cancer gene works by helping cells to stick together, a process which slows down their growth speed. Like other tumour suppressor genes, the researchers found that OPCML was silenced by a process known as methylation.

If pharmacists can find drugs which mimic the effects of OPCML, they could block the growth of ovarian cancer without having to perform risky and painful surgery that does not always stop the spread of the tumour.

Source: News sources
More Information:
Nature Genetics website

Last update: 25 December 2008 | Top