By Hong Mautz
Feb. 25(CBSHealthWatch)—Scientists have identified a gene that may be responsible for transforming a normal cell into a malignant one, a discovery that may potentially prevent the progression of aggressive cancers, according to researchers.
The gene, which is not active in normal tissue and is known as Pituitary Tumor Transforming Gene (PTTG1), may prove to be a powerful tool for identifying colon polyps that are most likely to become deadly. The gene may also tell doctors how aggressive a colorectal cancer tumor may be.
"It could be used as a marker for the degree of malignancy and invasiveness in Colon Cancer ," says Dr. Shlomo Melmed, senior author of the study and director of Cedars-Sinai's Burns and Allen Research Institute in Los Angeles.
"Pathologists will potentially have a mechanism to further confirm their impression as to the degree of malignancy of that specimen, to decide whether more aggressive surgery and further test is warranted, or they can be reassured if the gene is absent," says Dr. Melmed.
Researchers say there currently are at least 14 gene markers in colon cancer. They found high levels of PTTG1 in all cancers as well as in the majority of cancerous polyps. But many of these other markers have not been found in as many cancers as PTTG1.
Other scientists say that there is evidence that PTTG1 can transform normal cells into cancer cells. They say the researchers' findings offer important insight into the process that turns normal cells into killers.
"Genes involved in earlier processes are very attractive targets in the prevention and treatment of cancer," says Dr. Anthony Heaney, a lead author of the study and a research fellow at Cedars-Sinai's Research Institute in Los Angeles.
"If we can go back to where things began to go wrong, find the genes which are involved, and prevent them from doing their mischief," says Dr. Heaney, "we can potentially develop therapy which will prevent the progression of cancer."
Researchers say further studies will focus on developing ways to slow or stop the damage that PTTG1 does.
The study is published in the Feb. 25 issue of the Lancet.
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