"Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide," said David S. Fay, Ph.D., a researcher involved in the work from the Molecular Biology Department at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. "We hope that by carrying out basic genetic research on one of the most widely implicated human cancer genes, that we can contribute to the arsenal of diverse therapeutic approaches used to treat and cure many types of cancer."
To make this discovery, Dr. Fay and his colleagues used a strain of nematode worms that carried a mutation in a gene similar to one that is inactivated in many human cancers.
This gene, called "LIN-35" in worms and "pRb" in humans, is thought to control at least several aspects of tumor progression including cancer cell growth and survival.
The researchers systematically inactivated other individual genes in the genome of the mutant LIN-35 worms. As they deactivated various genes, scientists identified those that led to a reversal of defects caused by the loss of LIN-35, suggesting that they could be used as targets for anti-cancer therapies.
"This research is important because it offers possible new ways to shut down the genetic machinery that contributes to cancer growth and progression," said Mark Johnston, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief of the journal GENETICS.
"The causes of cancer are complex and varied, so we must approach this disease from many angles. Using simple 'model organisms,' such as nematode worms to find new drug targets, is becoming an increasingly important and effective strategy."