DURHAM, N.C. -- A malfunctioning "traffic cop" gene apparently plays an important role in the formation of liver cancer, according to researchers from the Duke University Comprehensive Cancer Center and Zeneca Pharmaceuticals of Chesire, United Kingdom.
The discovery that the gene -- mannose 6-phosphate/insulin-like growth factor II receptor, or M6P/IGF2r -- acts as a tumor suppressor gene in human liver tumors could help researchers develop an early diagnostic test for liver cancer as well as new treatments, the researchers said. The disease is often far advanced at detection, and the five-year survival rate in the United States is only 4 percent.
A report on this tumor suppressor gene appears in the December issue of Nature Genetics. Along with principal investigator Randy Jirtle, Gerald R. Hankins and Mary K. Washington of Duke University Medical Center; and Angus T. De Souza and Terry C. Orton of Zeneca are co-authors.
Funding for the project came from the National Institutes of Health, Zeneca, the Proctor and Gamble Co. and MITRE Corp.
"Liver cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide, particularly because of its association with viral hepatitis," said Jirtle, a professor of radiation oncology and cancer center member. The lack of effective treatments also makes it a particularly deadly disease, he said.
"As a consequence, knowing something about liver tumor formation or having a handle on how one could detect these tumors when they're much smaller could have a significant impact on survival," he said.
The protein receptor produced by M6P/IGF2r is an attractive target because it is present on the cell surface and in the plasma, Jirtle said, making it readily accessible for use in both liver tumor therapy and diagnosis.
Researchers often work backwards from the biological changes involved in cancer to find the genes responsible for these alterations. In this case, however, the functions of an already-identified gene led Jir
Contact: David Rice