Researchers Identify Colon Cancer 'Master Regulator'

Wednesday, 06 Nov 2013 04:10 PM

By Nick Tate

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German cancer specialists have identified what they are describing as a genetic "master regulator" in the body that allows highly malignant tumors to spread from the colon to other parts of the body — a finding that could lead to new ways to diagnose and treatment patients.

Researchers at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet in Munich said the protein — known as c-MYC — promotes the spread (metastasis) of colon cancer tumors by controlling the activity of hundreds of genes, including many that drive cell growth and cell proliferation.

The research team found that, in most cancers, there are mutations that switch on the c-MYC gene and that the protein also plays a crucial role in the seeding of tumors in other parts of the body.

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Understanding the mechanism that drives cancer growth and proliferation could open the door to new treatments, said the scientists.

Heiko Hermeking, whose work focuses on the molecular bases of carcinogenesis, said his research shows c-MYC interacts with a second protein, known scientifically as ZNF281, to promote the spread of cancer. In studies of mice, his team colon cancer cells that lack the ZNF281 protein do not spread to other parts of the body.

"Inhibition of ZNF281 prevents metastasis, at least in mice. So it might be possible to inhibit the formation of new metastatic tumors or eliminate pre-existing ones using therapeutic agents directed against ZNF281," Hermeking said.

"Furthermore, the presence of ZNF281 in primary tumors could be used as a prognostic marker that allows one to estimate the likelihood of metastatic tumors appearing after surgical removal of the primary tumor."

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