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Gene expression profiling may predict head, neck cancer recurrence

CHAPEL HILL -- Results from a new study of tumor genetics may give doctors valuable information in deciding how aggressively to treat patients with head and neck cancer. Head and neck tumors account for more than 40,000 new cancers annually in the United States. The most common of these is squamous cell carcinoma. Prognosis is based largely on location and size of the tumor, and if the cancer has spread, or metastasized, to lymph nodes and distant sites in the body.

The study identified four tumor gene expression patterns that may serve as biomarkers of prognosis, including tumor recurrence or metastasis, for patients with head and neck squamous cell cancer and for whom aggressive therapy might be best.

Dr. Charles M. Perou, assistant professor of genetics and pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, led the study.

Writing in the May 18 issue of the journal Cancer Cell, Perou, also a member of the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, and colleagues from UNC and Vanderbilt University presented their findings based on the gene expression patterns of 60 head and neck tumor samples that were assayed using DNA microarrays, a technology Perou pioneered. The samples came from patients at UNC Hospitals.

"This technology allows us to determine the expression level of tens of thousands of genes at once," Perou said. "What excites me about gene expression profiling is that it allows us to study real human tumor samples and collect thousands of data points which we could not do before. There is no animal model system here. We're studying the disease as people have it."

Gene expression refers to the transcription of the information contained within DNA, the repository of genetic information, into messenger RNA (mRNA) molecules that are then translated into the proteins that perform most of the cells' critical functions.

Scientists then study the kinds and amount
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Contact: Leslie H. Lang
llang@med.unc.edu
919-843-9687
University of North Carolina School of Medicine
19-May-2004


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