Researchers discover new genes that fuse in cancer

January 11, 2009

Using new technologies that make it easier to sequence the human genome, researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center have identified a series of genes that become fused when their chromosomes trade places with each other. These recurrent gene fusions are thought to be the driving mechanism that causes certain cancers to develop.

The gene fusions discovered could potentially serve as a marker one day for diagnosing cancer or as a target for future drug development.

In the new study, published in Nature, the researchers identified several gene fusions in prostate cancer cells. Some of the fusions were seen in multiple cell lines studied, while other gene fusions appeared only once. The fusions were found only in cancer cells, and not in normal cells.

"We defined a new class of mutations in prostate cancer. The recurrent fusions are thought to be the driving mechanism of cancer. But we found other fusions as well, some of which were unique to individual patients. Our next step is to understand if these play a role in driving disease," says Arul Chinnaiyan, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology and S.P. Hicks Endowed Professor of Pathology at the U-M Medical School.

Chinnaiyan's team was the first to identify rearrangements in chromosomes and fused genes in prostate cancer. Gene fusions had previously been known to play a role in blood cell cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma, and in Ewing's sarcoma.

In the current study, the researchers showed that newer techniques could identify these gene fusions more quickly and easily.

The researchers used a technique called gene sequencing, which involves creating a library of all RNAs in a cell. Sequencing machines then run 24 hours a day for days at a time, reading the RNA. Once the sequencing is finished, researchers study the data searching for the gene fusions.

This is a more direct approach than the method Chinnaiyan's lab used to first identify gene fusions in prostate cancer, a process called microarray. Using microarray technology, researchers had to first know where they wanted to look. With gene sequencing, the researchers can find what's there without knowing where to look first.

"We now have the ability to use next generation sequencing technology. This will open up the field in cancer research," says Chinnaiyan, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. While the current study focused on prostate cancer, his team is also looking at gene fusions involved in breast cancer, lung cancer and melanoma.

Reference: Nature, published online Jan. 11, 2009, DOI: 10.1038/nature07638

Source: University of Michigan

Explore further: Gene fusions can lead to glioblastoma in children

Related Stories

Gene fusions can lead to glioblastoma in children

October 20, 2016

Every year, about 60 children and adolescents in Germany are diagnosed with glioblastoma, a very aggressive type of brain cancer, which is still mostly untreatable. Now, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular ...

Team maps genomic landscape of schwannoma tumours

October 11, 2016

Researchers from the University Health Network (UHN); Toronto Western Neurosurgery Division and MacFeeters Hamilton Neuro-oncology Program at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre have described the genomic landscape of schwannomas ...

Recommended for you

Maternal blood test may predict birth complications

October 24, 2016

A protein found in the blood of pregnant women could be used to develop tests to determine the health of their babies and aid decisions on early elective deliveries, according to an early study led by Queen Mary University ...

Scientists find new genetic roots of schizophrenia

October 19, 2016

UCLA scientists have made a major advance in understanding the biology of schizophrenia. Using a recently developed technology for analyzing DNA, the scientists found dozens of genes and two major biological pathways that ...

Possible miscarriage gene found: study

October 19, 2016

Scientists said Wednesday they had linked mutations in a specific gene with an increased risk of recurrent miscarriages, offering hopes of better diagnosis and treatment for affected women.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.