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Scientists Find Way to Dim Cancer Switch
Date:7/1/2008

Research could pave the way for better treatments of certain malignancies

TUESDAY, July 1 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists have discovered that they can use a kind of dimmer switch to stop a "cancer signal" from contributing to the development of tumors.

The findings don't represent a cure, and no one knows if they will even lead to better treatments for cancer. But the research does clear a pathway for scientists to follow as they determine which "switches" they need to turn off to stop cancer in its tracks, said study senior author Dr. Dean Felsher, an associate professor of medicine and oncology at Stanford University School of Medicine.

"You do not have to completely shut off a cancer switch to have a beneficial effect on cancer," he said. "It's a useful improvement over how we've been understanding things."

Normally, cells are programmed to commit suicide if they detect that they're damaged. "The cell says, 'I shouldn't be alive, something is wrong with me, I'm broken.' And it decides to kill itself," Felsher said.

But in some cases, the cells don't automatically kill themselves as they're programmed to do. Instead, proteins send signals that tell the cells to keep growing, said William Tansey, a professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory who studies how tumors develop. "As a result of this push, cancer can develop."

A gene known as Myc is considered a major player in this process. At times, it doesn't cause problems. But its "Jekyll and Hyde" nature can turn it into a villain that sends marching orders to cells, Felsher said.

In the new research, Felsher and colleagues worked with genetically engineered mice to develop a way to slightly adjust the Myc switch instead of turning it on or off.

The study was published in the July 1 issue of Cancer Research.

The researchers found that by turning down the Myc switch, like using a dimmer switch on a lamp, they
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