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St. Jude identifies the specific cell that causes eye cancer, disproving long-held theory
Date:10/18/2007

ltiply to form retinoblastoma also challenges the established scientific belief that cancer cells are most aggressive when they are undifferentiated, Dyer said. For example, the leukemic cells of chronic myelogeneous leukemia (CML) are much less aggressive when they are differentiated; and it is generally not aggressive until the tumor cells sustain mutations that block differentiation.

On the contrary, we showed that when certain genes are inactivated in the retina, horizontal neurons that are already differentiated and fully integrated into the brain can start multiplying rapidly and produce a very aggressive cancer, Dyer said. This opens an exciting new chapter in the study of neurons and brain tumors.

An important implication of this finding is that if researchers were able to alter the activity of certain genes in fully developed neurons, they might be able to trigger them to multiply temporarily and replace the neighboring neurons that were lost as a result of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers, Dyer said. Having nerves duplicate themselves might be more efficient than trying to stimulate nerve replacement by inserting stem cells into the brain, since the existing nerves would already be in the right place to restore missing brain cells, he said. However, there is still a lot of research required to determine if it is possible to control gene activity to make this approach practical.

Dyers group made their discovery by developing different populations of mice whose retinas lacked one or more members of the Rb family of genes that include Rb, p107 and p130. This family of related genes is critical to the ability of an immature cell to stop dividing and begin to differentiate so it acquires certain specific characteristics required to do its job in the body.

The St. Jude researchers showed that when the mouse retina had reduced Rb family function, fully differentiated horizontal neurons could multiply while ret
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Contact: Summer Freeman
summer.freeman@stjude.org
901-495-3061
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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