Genentech and academics spot colon cancer gene markers

As part of a partnership with biotech Genentech, University of Minnesota researchers have found gene mutations that could lead to personalized medicine for some types of colon cancer. The research is published online in the journal Nature.

The genes code for R-spondin proteins that are usually active only in the embryo, signaling cell proliferation. However, if the genes mutate, these proteins can spring back to life, triggering the wrong kind of cell proliferation in the wrong places, causing tumors in the colon.

The researchers found the gene mutations, fusions of two genes, by analyzing human colon tumors and by looking at a mouse model engineered using the wonderfully named Sleeping Beauty transposon.

"What we're finding is that tumors may look the same, but they're fundamentally different," said Caitlin Conboy of the University of Minnesota. "Diagnosis may be less about the tissue where the tumor is found, like the breast or colon, but the drivers of the tumor's growth."

Knowing the role of these genes could help biopharma companies to develop drugs more closely tailored to patients. The team is working to develop molecules that block mutant proteins. Though they're still a long way off, because the genes are generally only active in the embryo, these could be drugs low in side effects, too.

- read the press release
- check out the abstract

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