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: In-depth gene search reveals new mutations, drug targets in rare adrenal tumors

Related Stories

Clue to how cancer cells spread

January 27, 2017

In a second human case, a Yale-led research team has found that a melanoma cell and a white blood cell can fuse to form a hybrid with the ability to metastasize. The finding provides further insight into how melanoma and ...

Study identifies genomic features of cervical cancer

January 23, 2017

Investigators with The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Research Network have identified novel genomic and molecular characteristics of cervical cancer that will aid in the subclassification of the disease and may help target therapies ...

Epigenetic diversity in childhood cancer

January 30, 2017

Tumors of the elderly, such as breast cancer and colon cancer, accumulate thousands of DNA mutations. These genetic defects contribute to cancer-specific properties including uncontrolled growth, invasion in neighboring tissues, ...

Recommended for you

Maths and maps make you nervous? It could be in your genes

February 21, 2017

Our genes play a significant role in how anxious we feel when faced with spatial and mathematical tasks, such as reading a map or solving a geometry problem, according to a new study by researchers from King's College London.

Gene therapy treats muscle-wasting disease in dogs

February 15, 2017

Work on gene therapy is showing significant progress for restoring muscle strength and prolonging lives in dogs with a previously incurable, inherited neuromuscular disease. UW Medicine Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative ...

0 comments

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.