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Gene Fusions May Drive Certain Cancers

Prostate cell findings could reveal targets for future treatments

MONDAY, Jan. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Researchers say they have discovered genes in prostate cancer cells that fuse when their chromosomes trade places with each other, an occurrence that may initiate the development of some cancers.

The mutations, identified by researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, appear only in cancer cells, a finding that may serve as a marker for diagnosing cancer or a target for future treatment drugs. Some of the fusions appeared in multiple cell lines, but others were unique.

"The recurrent fusions are thought to be the driving mechanism of cancer. But we found other fusions as well, some of which were unique to individual patients. Our next step is to understand if these play a role in driving disease," Dr. Arul Chinnaiyan, the S.P. Hicks-endowed professor of pathology at the U-M Medical School, said in a university news release.

Gene fusions were known to occur in blood cell cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, but these are the first to be found in prostate cancer.

The findings, published in Nature, are also important because they made use of faster, more efficient gene-sequencing technology. This requires developing a library of all a cell's RNAs that researchers can study for fusions.

The researchers are now studying gene fusions involved in breast cancer, lung cancer and melanoma.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Cancer has more about prostate cancer.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, Jan. 11, 2009

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