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Researchers have Identified the Gene that Spreads Skin Cancer

Researchers have identified a novel gene that facilitates the spread of malignant melanoma, a life-threatening skin cancer, //using a technique they say can speed the discovery of hard-to-find cancer genes.

A team of scientists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, led by Lynda Chin, MD, report that the gene, NEDD9, is abnormally abundant in more than a third of melanomas that have metastasized, but not in primary melanomas that have not spread.

The protein made by the NEDD9 gene allows the cancer cells to migrate beyond the initial skin tumor, to invade surrounding tissues and ultimately to metastasize to distant organs. While the protein itself does not lend itself to targeting by cancer drugs, say the researchers, insights gained in this study suggest that disrupting genes and proteins associated with NEDD9 may be fruitful in halting spread of melanoma.

"This is clinically important," said Chin, "because primary skin melanoma doesn’t kill patients – metastases are the major problem. So understanding the events that drive metastasis may lead to identifying the most relevant targets for therapy, and potentially, for preventing metastasis."

More than 62,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States this year, according to American Cancer Society estimates, and about 7,900 people will die of the cancer.

Chin and her group at Dana-Farber use genome-scanning methods such as array-CGH (comparative genomic hybridization) to uncover structural abnormalities of the chromosomes of cancer cells. In one common form of abnormality, bits of DNA have been overcopied (amplified) or, conversely, have been lost (deleted), and these "copy number alterations" are key events in the development and progression of cancers.

If the alterations are confined to a very small part of the chromosome, it is relatively easy to identify the likely culprits involved in the cancer. But in some cancers, including meta
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