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Scientists discover a genetic switch that links animal growth and cancer

Laboratory discoveries by scientists at two universities may lead to new directions in cancer therapy drugs. The researchers have discovered that a genetic switch involved in growth and development of an animal is the same one used to prevent normal cells from becoming cancerous.

The findings are reported in the April 18 issue of Current Biology. Experiments were carried out by first author Masamitsu Fukuyama, a postdoctoral scientist working in the laboratories of Joel H. Rothman, a professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Ann Rougvie, a professor in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development at the University of Minnesota. Fukuyama is now an assistant professor at the University of Tokyo.

"The parallels between the control of development during the normal process of maturation and the control of cancer growth are striking," said Rothman. "We recognize that cancer cells in many ways simply mimic what normal cells do in a developing animal, only at an unfortunate time and place."

In life, there is a time to wait and a time to grow, Rothman explained. "Many creatures remain in a waiting state until conditions are right for growth. A tiny redwood, for example, can remain persistently arrested for years inside a seed. Only when the seed senses water will it sprout and initiate development into a mature tree. Many animals similarly halt their development until the environment is right for growth and development."

The process is the same with cells, the basic units of life. Many cells remain in a quiescent state, neither growing nor multiplying until they are triggered to do so by an environmental cue, such as a hormone or injury. Cells possess braking mechanisms that keep them in this quiescent state. When the brakes fail, cells that should be static start growing and dividing, leading to cancer. These brakes are proteins called tumor sup
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Source:University of California - Santa Barbara


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