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NIH study reveals new genetic culprit in deadly skin cancer
Date:8/31/2009

Drawing on the power of DNA sequencing, National Institutes of Health researchers have identified a new group of genetic mutations involved in the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma. This discovery is particularly encouraging because some of the mutations, which were found in nearly one-fifth of melanoma cases, reside in a gene already targeted by a drug approved for certain types of breast cancer.

In the United States and many other nations, melanoma is becoming increasingly more common. A major cause of melanoma is thought to be sun exposure; the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight can damage DNA and lead to cancer-causing genetic changes within skin cells.

In work published in the September issue of Nature Genetics, a team led by Yardena Samuels, Ph.D., of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) sequenced the protein tyrosine kinase (PTK) gene family in tumor and blood samples from people with metastatic melanoma. The samples were collected by the study's coauthor Steven Rosenberg, M.D., Ph.D., a leading expert on melanoma and chief of surgery at the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

The PTK family includes many genes that, when mutated, promote various types of cancer. However, relatively little had been known about roles played by PTK genes in human melanoma. The NIH study was among the first to use large-scale DNA sequencing to systematically analyze all 86 members of the PTK gene family in melanoma samples.

The team's initial survey, which involved samples from 29 melanoma patients, identified mutations in functionally important regions of 19 PTK genes, only three of which had been previously implicated in melanoma. The researchers then conducted more detailed analyses of those 19 genes in samples from a total of 79 melanoma patients.

One of the newly implicated genes stood out from the rest. Researchers detected mutations in the ERBB4 gene (also known as HER4) in 19 percent of patien
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Contact: Geoffrey Spencer
spencerg@mail.nih.gov
301-402-0911
NIH/National Human Genome Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert

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