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Inner Workings of Gene Tied to Breast, Ovarian Cancer Revealed
Date:8/23/2010

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

SUNDAY, Aug. 22 (HealthDay News) -- For the first time, scientists have succeeded in isolating the lengthy protein encoded by the BRCA2 gene.

Dysfunction of this gene can up the risk for both breast and ovarian cancer.

By separating the protein from the rest of the components of human cells, researchers were able to study it more closely and figure out exactly what it does in the body.

"Since BRCA2 is such a large protein, it has a lot of different domains and it has never really been clear how the different domains work together," explained Wolf-Dietrich Heyer, senior author of a paper appearing online in the journal Nature Structural & Molecular Biology and co-leader of the Molecular Oncology Program at the University of California, Davis, Cancer Center.

"With having the entire protein purified now, one has a chance to actually understand the whole protein," he said. "It's a huge protein. People were studying individual pieces but never got the full picture. Now we can really start to analyze its mechanisms."

That analysis should help illuminate the underpinnings of breast and ovarian cancers and point the way, someday, to better prevention and treatment.

Heyer's paper joins two other papers, one also in Nature Structural & Molecular Biology and one in Nature, which detail the findings. All were published online Aug. 22.

Although the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes were discovered some 15 years ago, scientists have had trouble deciphering their inner workings.

"Everybody has a BRCA gene. You need it because it functions as a tumor-suppressor gene," explained Dr. Julia Smith, director of the Breast Cancer Screening and Prevention Program at NYU Cancer Institute in New York City. "Abnormal cells that could become tumor cells are popping up all the time and we have lots and lots of repair mechanisms and corrective mechanisms t
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