Scientists Spot Possible Target in Ovarian Cancer

TUESDAY July 12, 2011 -- Researchers seeking a way to beat cancer have found that a particular gene, known as PAX8, is altered in a significant number of ovarian tumors, according to a new study.

The research is part of Project Achilles, a comprehensive effort by scientists from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to identify weaknesses in cancers.

After analyzing the cells of more than 100 tumors, including 25 ovarian cancer tumors, the researchers reported that identifying genes like PAX8 might help in the battle against certain types of cancer.

"In this project, we're looking for all of the Achilles' heels of cancer. That is to say, we're looking for any instance where you inactivate a gene and affect the survival of cancer cells," William Hahn, a senior associate member of the Broad Institute and an associate professor at Dana-Farber and Harvard Medical School, said in an institute news release.

The researchers suppressed more than 10,000 genes in an attempt to find those needed for cancer cells to grow and survive. The PAX8 gene was identified in nearly one-fifth of the ovarian tumors analyzed.

"Not only can we characterize what genes are mutated or altered, but we can also simultaneously assess which of those are important functionally," Hahn said.

In identifying these specific genes, the investigators hope to predict the effect of treatments targeting specific genes. They also noted that going forward, it may be more telling to identify tumors based on genetic mutations rather than their organ or tissue of origin.

"Many of us in the genomics field . . . were thinking that maybe someday, we won't care about the organs that cancers come from, that we will only care about the genetic mutations that drive them," said Hahn.

In the near future, the researchers said they plan further investigation of the notoriously treatment-resistant PAX8 gene in order to find just one gene among hundreds of thousands capable of neutralizing it.

The study findings are published in the July 11 online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute provides more information on ovarian cancer.

Posted: July 2011


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