BOSTON -- Using a novel three-part screening process, scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have identified a gene that is made inappropriately in about a third of all breast cancers. The discovery, reached in collaboration with researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT, is reported in the June 15, 2007 issue of the journal Cell.
Unlike breast cancer-susceptibility genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2, the newly identified gene, called IKBKE, is not inherited in a mutated form that increases the risk of developing breast cancer at an early age. Rather, the mutation arises during a woman's life, causing an overproduction of the IKBKE protein. That, in turn, spurs cell growth and proliferation. The mutation is found in 30-40 percent of all breast cancers, making it a prime target for future drugs for the disease.
The method used to home in on the gene -- a combination of three existing experimental approaches -- offers an elegant solution to one of the major hurdles of genome-age research: how to sift through the multitude of genes identified by advanced screening technology as potential cancer-causers to find those with the most profound role in the disease. As such, the new approach can be used to discover genes associated with many types of cancers, the study's authors state.
The genetic material within many human cancer cells is in such disarray that there can be numerous gene mutations," says the study's co-senior author, William Hahn, MD, PhD, of Dana-Farber, BWH, and the Broad Institute. Current technologies -- particularly 'microarray' sensors, which read the activity and changes in thousands of genes at a time enable us to locate dozens or even hundreds of gene abnormalities in cancer cells. The challenge is to winnow this group to find the genes most centrally involved in cancer initiation and maintenance.