A gene gone wild may cause stomach cancer

Australian genetic researcher Brendan Jenkins has seen the enemy, and it's name is STAT3. It's a gene that may contribute to stomach and other cancers, and, in an interview with The Age of Australia, Jenkins explains why he's devoting so much time to understanding how this one gene works. It's not that STAT3 is inherently evil--it's actually quite useful. It makes the STAT3 protein, which controls hundreds of other genes important for cell survival, cell growth and promoting angiogenesis, The Age reports. But if you can block the blood-vessel formation function of STAT3, you can possibly prevent cancers from growing.

Why the specific focus on stomach cancer? "This is what's so intriguing: STAT3 also promotes inflammation," Jenkins explains. "The way it does this is not known. But we do know it regulates the immune system somehow, and a hyper-activated immune system will eventually lead to inflammation. The precursor to stomach cancer is inflammation, or gastritis, so it's critical to understand the role STAT3 plays, especially since STAT3 is over-activated in up to 50 per cent of stomach cancers."

Jenkins tells The Age that his research group at Monash Institute of Medical Research has identified a key molecule belonging to the immune system that is over-activated by STAT3. This molecule, he says, could play a part in STAT3's promotion of stomach cancer. This part of the research will be published soon, Jenkins says. The research group is also working with a pharmaceutical company in Ireland that has an antibody, while the researchers have mouse models in which stomach cancer has been stopped. Clinical trials are planned.

- read the full interview in The Age