Genentech, U. Minnesota scientists discover new colon cancer red flags

After a mouse study and close scrutiny of more than 70 pairs of human tumors, Genentech geneticists and University of Minnesota Medical School scientists spotted two new genetic markers that could be crucial red flags for some types of colon cancer. The hope is that the finding could eventually lead to more personalized, gene-specific colon cancer treatments.

The journal Nature published the full study online.

The short version: Researchers identified two types of proteins that appear to be solid markers--RSPO2 and RSPO3--both part of the R-spondin family. These proteins typically trigger cell proliferation as embryos develop, they explain. But certain gene mutations can trigger them to reactivate, and colon tumors can be the sobering result.

By looking at those 70 different pairs of human tumors and conducting a mouse study, the scientists were able to spot 36 different rearrangements that led to gene fusions. Two recurred on a regular basis involving both RSPO2 and RSPO3, they said.

This is an early finding that will require plenty of subsequent research. But participating scientists, including David Largaespada and others, say the discovery could allow scientists to develop a colon cancer treatment specific to a patient's cancer genetics. Even as personalized medicine advances, the concept of a personalized treatment for all genetic varieties of a given cancer remains a long way in the future. But the goal here is to develop a method where, theoretically, a cancer treatment can be tailored to the results of a tumor genetic test. And the research presented reflects a promising step.

Coming next: For tumors driven by R-spondin production, researchers will test whether a blocking agent can beat them back.

- read the release
- check out the study

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