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Sleeping beauty plays a significant role in identifying cancer genes

Researchers at the University of Minnesota Cancer Center and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, have discovered a new method that could accelerate the way cancer-causing genes are found and could lead to a more accurate identification of the genes, according to two studies in the July 14, 2005, issue of Nature*.

The gene identification method was developed in genetically modified mice and utilized a piece of jumping DNA, called Sleeping Beauty. Jumping genes, or transposons, insert themselves into or between genes and can activate or inactivate a gene's normal function. Related transposons are natural to the genetic makeup of humans, animals and fish, but, through millions of years of evolution, most transposons became inactive dead-ends. In 1997, in another study, University of Minnesota researchers took defunct, non-functioning jumping genes from fish and made the genes jump again. This research had reactivated the jumping genes from millions of years of evolutionary sleep; hence the name Sleeping Beauty.

In the two current research studies, specially designed Sleeping Beauty transposons were introduced into mouse DNA and made to jump around in the nucleus of mouse cells. Eventually the transposons jumped into cancer-causing genes and caused a tumor to form. By isolating and studying the genes from tumors that contained Sleeping Beauty, researchers were able to efficiently find genes linked to cancer by seeing whether Sleeping Beauty turned them on or off -- in effect, uncovering the fingerprint of each tumor's cancer genes.

David Largaespada, Ph.D., associate professor and leader of the Genetic Mechanisms of Cancer Program, led the University of Minnesota Cancer Center research team. Their work focused on cancer gene discovery in solid tumors using transposon-based techniques.

"Current cancer gene identification methods, such as microarrays, give correlations typically of thousands o
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Contact: Michael Miller
millermi@mail.nih.gov
301-496-6641
NIH/National Cancer Institute
13-Jul-2005


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