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Gene links rare and unrelated cancers
Date:12/21/2011

Scientists at the BC Cancer Agency, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, and the University of British Columbia are excited over a discovery made while studying rare tumour types.

Dr. David Huntsman, genetic pathologist and director of the Ovarian Cancer Program of BC at the BC Cancer Agency and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute and Dr. Gregg Morin, a lead scientist from the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre at the BC Cancer Agency, led a team who found mutations in rare, seemingly unrelated cancers were all linked to the same gene, known as DICER.

The research team set about sequencing rare ovarian, uterine, and testicular tumours, expecting to find that their genomes would be distinct with specific, differing abnormalities. They were amazed to discover the same fundamental mutation in the DICER gene showed up as the common process underlying all of the different cancers they examined.

The findings are published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"DICER is of great interest to cancer researchers" says Dr. Huntsman, who also holds the Dr. Chew Wei Memorial Professorship in the departments of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at UBC. "There have been nearly 1300 published studies about it in the last 10 years, but until now, it has not been known how the gene functions in relation to cancer."

The gene plays an important role in maintaining health. It has as a "factory style" function, chopping up microRNA molecules to activate them. These microRNA molecules in turn control hundreds of other genes. "This discovery shows researchers that these mutations change the function of DICER so that it participates directly in the initiation of cancer, but not in a typical "on-off" fashion," says Dr. Morin who is also assistant professor in the department of Medical Genetics at UBC. "DICER can be viewed as the conductor for an orchestra of functions critical f
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Contact: Brian Lin
brian.lin@ubc.ca
604-822-2234
University of British Columbia
Source:Eurekalert

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