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Gene Thought to Help Kill Cancer Cells may Actually Help Them Thrive

A new study of chemo patients, scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Ovarian Cancer Institute has revealed that a gene , p53, thought to be essential in helping chemotherapy kill cancer cells, may actually help them thrive.

The researchers found that 70 percent of subjects whose tumors had mutations in the gene p53 were still alive after five years. Patients with normal p53 displayed only a 30 percent survival rate.

The findings raise the possibility of a new strategy for fighting cancer - namely, developing drugs to disable the functioning of this gene in the tumors of patients undergoing chemotherapy.

P53 has long been recognized as a key player in directing chemotherapy-damaged cancer cells to self annihilate, but less attention has been paid to p53s role in repairing damaged cells, said John McDonald, chair of Georgia Techs School of Biology and chief research scientist at the Ovarian Cancer Institute.

Georgia Tech researchers found that p53 may be a double-edged sword. Chemotherapy patients whose tumors had a mutated p53 gene that didn't work had a much better survival rate than those who had normal p53.

In the study, researchers took malignant and benign ovarian tumors straight from the operating room and compared their gene expression profiles. Some of the cancer patients had been treated with chemotherapy prior to surgery, and some had not. At this point researchers didn't consider whether the patients actually had malignant tumors or had been treated with chemotherapy.

However, they found that the gene expression profiles of the tumors clustered the chemotherapy-treated patients into two groups: those whose profiles were similar to cancer patients who had not been treated with chemo and those whose profiles were similar to patients with benign tumors.

As they continued their analysis, they found that the main difference between the groups'
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