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Fly Tumor Points Way To New Understanding Of Cancer Development

February 1, 1999-- Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) researchers at Yale University have "rescued" fruit flies from cancerous tumors by inserting a cancer-suppressing human gene into the insects. The scientists believe that their achievement represents the first direct link between human tumor suppressor genes and those found in the fruit fly Drosophila.

More broadly, the experiments demonstrate that even though flies and humans are separated by 800 million years of evolution, the insects can provide important new insights into human cancers, says HHMI investigator Tian Xu at Yale University School of Medicine.

Tumor suppressor genes produce proteins that normally stop cell proliferation. When such genes malfunction, they produce defective proteins that permit cells to proliferate endlessly, producing tumors.

In a paper published in the February 1999 issue of the journal Nature Genetics, the researchers showed that inserting the human "large tumor suppressor" (LATS1) gene into Drosophila that lacked the fly version of the gene (lats) prevented tumor formation. Flies with the human LATS1 gene did not show the widespread tumors and early mortality caused by the non-functioning lats gene, suggesting that the two genes have the same function.

In addition, Xu and his colleagues uncovered evidence that lats is a new kind of tumor suppressor that blocks a specific stage of cell proliferation. "We believe this finding represents a major advance in understanding cell cycle regulation, and thus cancer biology, because these LATS molecules are a new type of negative regulator for the enzymes that drive the cell cycle," said Xu. Thus, he said, the finding hints that further explorations into the molecular signaling machinery involving LATS1 may yield insights into little-understood cancers and perhaps lead
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Contact: Jim Keeley
keeleyj@hhmi.org
301-215-8858
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
1-Feb-1999


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