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Potential New Cancer Gene Identified

A Johns Hopkins University research team has discovered a new family of genes that contributes to the process of malignancy, shedding new light on the abnormalities that give rise to the aggressive childhood cancer, Burkitt's lymphoma - as well as lymphoma, leukemia, prostate, ovarian, lung, and breast cancer.

Characterized by rapidly growing abdominal tumors, Burkitt's lymphoma is one of the three major types of pediatric non-Hodgkin's lymphomas, representing 40% of that group. According to the American Cancer Society, aproximately 57,000 children are diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma per year in the United States, representing about 6% of cancers in children. While aggressive, Burkitt's lymphoma responds well to chemotherapy, and has a 90% survival rate if the tumor has not spread beyond the abdomen.

Scientists have long known that the "myc" family of genes plays a prominent role in tumor formation, also called neoplastic transformation. The Hopkins team, focusing on c-myc, found that another gene called the HMG-I/Y gene is a key genetic "target" necessary for Myc-mediated transformation.

When the expression of this target gene in Burkitt's lymphoma cell lines was blocked, the cancer cells revert back to normal-appearing cells. This could point the way to new therapies for one of the most aggressive childhood cancers, as well as other cancers associated with increases in the HMG-I/Y gene according to the Johns Hopkin's research team.

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