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Gene Plays 'Jekyll-and-Hyde' Role in Deadly Brain Cancer

Study finds STAT3 can act as tumor suppressor, keeping bad cells in check

THURSDAY, Feb. 7 (HealthDay News) -- A gene called STAT3 acts like "Jekyll and Hyde" in glioblastoma brain cancer, according to a study led by Harvard Medical School researchers.

The finding may help improve treatment of people with the deadly disease.

Glioblastoma tends to strike people in the prime of life and is almost always fatal. There are limited treatment options, which have changed little over decades.

Previous research has shown that STAT3 is an oncogene in several types of glioblastoma. An oncogene is a gene whose normal functions are disrupted and, as a result, helps promote tumor development. In such cases, blocking STAT3 would be a way of fighting these tumors.

But this new study found that STAT3 is actually a tumor-suppressor gene in other types of glioblastoma, meaning that the gene keeps renegade cancer cells in check.

So, depending on a person's genetic makeup, STAT3 can play completely different roles in glioblastoma, the researchers said.

"This discovery lays the foundation for a more tailored therapeutic intervention. And that's really important. You can't just go blindly treating people by inhibiting STAT3," study senior author Azad Bonni, an associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, said in a prepared statement.

The study was published online Feb. 6 in the journal Genes & Development.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about brain tumors.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Harvard Medical School, news release, Feb. 6, 2008

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