An Expedition Of Genetic Proportions Leads Duke Researcher To A New Culprit In Lung Cancer Metastasis

DURHAM, N.C. -- Mapping the human genome isn't his job, but Dr. Gerold Bepler, a researcher at Duke University Medical Center, has tackled part of it anyway. He sought an unknown gene on human chromosome 11 that might be involved in lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. Locating the gene was the scientific equivalent of finding a house while only knowing the continent where it is located.

Bepler isn't part of the federal Human Genome Project, a 15-year program begun in 1990 to characterize all of the genetic material and identify the more than 80,000 genes that make us human. He doesn't receive funds to map and determine the DNA sequence of large portions of the chromosomes that make us who we are. He doesn't have a dozen DNA sequencers and 30 technicians.

What he did have was a question he wanted to answer, and so he did the mapping anyway. Initial funding from the Jimmy V Foundation got him and two researchers through the first three years, then funds from the National Institutes of Health supported him the rest of the way as his team expanded to five. Using the few DNA sequencers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and then machines at Duke once they were available, they worked day and night to complete the large project in just under five years.

The end result is a detailed map of about one tenth of chromosome 11. Among the 22 possible genes identified and pinned down in this map, he's identified one that he believes acts unlike other cancer-related genes to make lung cancer spread to other parts of the body, he reports in the January cover story of the journal Genomics. Co-authors are Kathy O'Briant, Young-Chul Kim, Gilbert Schreiber and Diana Pitterle, all of Duke.

Bepler entered the realm of gene mapping after finding that 75 percent of the lung cancer tumors he has studied are missing one copy of a certain region of chromosome 11. Studies in mice linked the chromosome

Contact: Joanna Downer
Duke University Medical Center

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