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UIC researchers discover gene that causes liver cancer in animals

When the gene, called Foxm1b, was deleted from liver cells in laboratory mice, the animals failed to develop tumors. Even when the researchers attempted to induce the formation of these tumors artificially, using a standard laboratory technique, the mice remained cancer free.

"To my knowledge, this is the first time a gene has been directly linked to the growth of cancer cells in live animals," said Robert Costa, professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics in the UIC College of Medicine and the lead investigator in the study.

Results of the study are published in today's issue of Genes and Development, the premier peer-reviewed journal on molecular genetics and biology.

Earlier studies had shown that Foxm1b is crucial for tissues to repair and replenish themselves -- a finding that led Costa to dub it the "fountain-of-youth gene." When it is absent, the genetic instructions inside a cell, called DNA, don't duplicate and cells have trouble dividing.

Foxm1b, which is stimulated by growth hormone, appears to malfunction in old age and in certain rare diseases that cause premature aging. It is one of a family of genes that controls the entire life cycle of a cell, including its proliferation, maturation and death.

In the current study, scientists in Costa's lab used genetically altered mice to establish the link between Foxm1b and liver cancer, showing that the gene is essential for the cancerous cells to multiply.

"Foxm1b is expressed in many different kinds of cancer cells, which leads us to believe it plays a key role in promoting the growth of tumors other than liver cancer," Costa said.

The scientists also created a prototype for a drug that would block Foxm1b activity and starve tumor cells of the protein that Foxm1b manufactures, preventing their multiplication.

The potential drug was a variant of a protein known to suppress tumors, called p19ARF. By attaching a string of arginines, a compon
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Contact: Sharon Butler
sbutler@uic.edu
312-355-2522
University of Illinois at Chicago
1-Apr-2004


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