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Jefferson researchers develop microchip to track genetic signature of cancer and normal tissue

MicroRNAs (miRNAs), tiny pieces of genetic material that can serve as stop signs for gene expression and protein synthesis, are thought to be important in the development of cancer. Now, researchers at Jefferson Medical College and the Kimmel Cancer Center of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia have developed a technique that allows them to find which miRNA genes are expressed and how in both cancerous and normal tissue.

Scientists, led by Carlo Croce, M.D., director of Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center and professor of microbiology and immunology at Jefferson Medical College, have developed a microarray chip onto which they were able to put all the known miRNA genes in both human and mouse. They found that each tissue they tested had its own characteristic pattern of miRNA gene expression.

The work might enable scientists to gain a better understanding of the roles of miRNAs in cancer and provide targets for future drug development. They reported their findings June 21, 2004 online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Croce explains that miRNAs are thought to play important roles in regulating gene expression during development and cell differentiation. MiRNAs inhibit the function of their targets, typically messenger RNA, which is involved in gene expression. They either degrade the messenger RNA or block its translation. Cells in organisms from yeast to mammals make interfering RNA to shut off gene expression in development.

Dr. Croce and his colleagues had previously shown that deletions in miRNA genes were involved in B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), the most common adult leukemia in the Western world. They also had reported that human miRNA genes are frequently located in "fragile" areas of the genome that are vulnerable to mutation. "We think the miRNA genes are in fact involved in many human cancers," he says.

"As a result, we have a number of markers that allow us to characterize spe
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Contact: Steve Benowitz
steven.benowitz@jefferson.edu
215-955-5291
Thomas Jefferson University
22-Jun-2004


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