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Gene plays 'Jekyll and Hyde' in brain cancer
Date:2/6/2008

BOSTON, Mass. (February 6, 2008)Perhaps the only positive spin one can put on the brain cancer glioblastoma is that its relatively uncommon. Other than that, the news is bad. It is nearly always fatal, it tends to strike people in the prime of their lives, and the limited treatment options have changed little over decades. Its no wonder then that many researchers are determined to find new ways treat this poorly understood type of cancer.

One approach focuses on a gene called STAT3. In several tumors, STAT3 takes the role of an oncogene, that is, a gene whose normal functions are derailed and, as a result, becomes a driving force in a tumors development. Clearly then, blocking STAT3 would deal a major blow to such tumors.

But a new study led by a team at Harvard Medical School has found that STAT3 isnt always the villain. While it does behave as an oncogene in certain types of glioblastoma, in others it becomes whats called a tumor suppressor gene, a type of gene often responsible for keeping the renegade cancer cells in check.

In other words, the same gene in the same cancer can play a completely different role from one person to the next, depending on genetic nuances between individuals. The results appear online February 6 in Genes and Development.

This discovery lays the foundation for a more tailored therapeutic intervention, says Azad Bonni, an associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School, and senior author on this study. And thats really important. You cant just go blindly treating people by inhibiting STAT3.

When most people think of brain cells, they think of neurons, those cells whose electric signaling gives rise to our consciousness. But another class of brain cells called astrocytes (named after their uncanny resemblance to stars) actually outnumber neurons ten to one. Despite their name, astrocytes play a less glitzy role than neurons do. Typically, theyre support cells, involved with
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Contact: David Cameron
david_cameron@hms.harvard.edu
617-432-0441
Harvard Medical School
Source:Eurekalert

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