Scientists believe that for the first time, they have linked the gene CUX1 to the development of one in every 100 tumors in cancer patients.
Led by researchers from the U.K.'s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the team screened genetic data from over 7,600 cancer patients, collected and sequenced by the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) and other groups. In 1% of all the cancer genomes analyzed, they found that mutations deactivated CUX1. When this gene is deactivated, investigators discovered that a biological pathway is activated to promote tumor growth. The research was published in Nature Genetics.
"CUX1 defects are particularly common in myeloid blood cancers, either through mutation or acquired loss of chromosome 7q. As these patients have a dismal prognosis currently, novel targeted therapies are urgently needed," Dr. Chi Wong, first author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and a hematologist at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, U.K., said in a statement.
Wong and his colleagues think new drugs that block this biological pathway could serve as targeted therapies with patients that have this particular mutation.
Though CUX1 is mutated at a relatively low frequency--about one in 100 of all patients--it appears across various types of cancers. Scientists knew about CUX1 but weren't aware of its role in cancer development, because previous studies on genetic factors in cancer formation focused on genes that are mutated at a high rate in one cancer type.
The team has also identified several dozen other genes that promote tumor growth at a low frequency when mutated. The researchers plan to further study their relationship with driving cancer by using gene silencing to knock out certain genes and observe the effects in mice.