Researchers discover new approach to improve personalized cancer treatments

October 15, 2013
Researchers discover new approach to improve personalized cancer treatments

Researchers from the University of Minnesota, Mayo Clinic, and University of Toronto have successfully shown that a new method for targeting mutated cells could create a major breakthrough in a personalized medicine approach to treat cancer.

The team's findings are published in the Oct. 15 issue of Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association of Cancer Research.

The new research discovers susceptible in the cells using synthetic lethal interactions—pairs of genes in which mutation in either gene alone causes no damage to the cell, but where mutations in both cause the death of the cell.

"When we discover these interactions in human cells, it can hold the key to effective, targeted cancer treatments," said Professor Chad Myers, the lead researcher and computer science and engineering associate professor in the University of Minnesota's College of Science and Engineering. "Specifically, drugs could be used to target the synthetic lethal interaction partners of cancer-associated genetic mutations. These drugs would then effectively kill but spare otherwise identical cells lacking the cancer-related genetic alteration."

Myers and his collaborators used research on yeast genes to find synthetic lethality, and then found genes in humans that were similar in structure and evolutionary origin to the yeast cells. Myers worked with Dr. Dennis Wigle, a practicing thoracic surgical oncologist at Mayo Clinic to test those interactions in .

They found two striking cases where synthetic lethal interactions were similar between yeast and human . These interactions involve genes that are frequently mutated in specific types of cancer and provide potential new drug targets for these tumors.

"About 40 percent of yeast genes have homologs in humans, we thought that inferring interactions across species may provide a quick way of getting at these interactions," Myers said. "Given our expertise with the yeast interactions, we developed a strategy for narrowing down the large list of interactions to test, based on sequence similarity between the genes and public databases of genes commonly mutated in cancer as well as other features."

Decades of drug discovery research have produced a limited number of targeted therapies for treating cancer. The most commonly used therapies involve delivering high doses of radiation or toxic chemicals to the patient, which can help to suppress tumor growth but also cause substantial damage to normal tissue.

"The strategy of using synthetic lethal interactions to identify , particularly for 'undruggable' cancer genes is an attractive alternative method for drug target discovery," said Wigle. "This technology is an important means to fully leverage information from sequencing projects for clinical application."

Explore further: Study provides big-picture view of how cancer cells are supported by normal cells in and near tumors

More information: "A Comparative Genomic Approach for Identifying Synthetic Lethal Interactions in Human Cancer," cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/early/2013/10/04/0008-5472.CAN-12-3956.abstract

Related Stories

'Wildly heterogeneous genes'

September 15, 2013

Cancer tumors almost never share the exact same genetic mutations, a fact that has confounded scientific efforts to better categorize cancer types and develop more targeted, effective treatments.

Awakening genes that suppress tumors

October 10, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—When genes that normally suppress tumor growth are themselves suppressed, cancer cells can grow and proliferate uncontrollably. A new study led by a researcher at Yale University has uncovered the pathway ...

Database of disease genes shows potential drug therapies

October 13, 2013

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have created a massive online database that matches thousands of genes linked to cancer and other diseases with drugs that target those genes. Some of the ...

Study reveals genes that drive brain cancer

August 5, 2013

A team of researchers at the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University Medical Center has identified 18 new genes responsible for driving glioblastoma multiforme, the most common—and most aggressive—form ...

Recommended for you

How randomness helps cancer cells thrive

March 27, 2017

In a research effort that merged genetics, physics and information theory, a team at the schools of medicine and engineering at The Johns Hopkins University has added significantly to evidence that large regions of the human ...

'Jumonji' protein key to Ewing's sarcoma rampage

March 24, 2017

By the time Ewing's Sarcoma is diagnosed, primarily in teens and young adults, it has often spread from its primary site to other parts of the body, making it difficult to treat. A University of Colorado Cancer Center study ...

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.