Transgenic mice aid research into deadly cancer

Scientists will be better able to fight Burkitt's lymphoma, a rare but deadly cancer that attacks children and AIDS patients, now that they have achieved a decades-long goal of genetically engineering mice to develop the disease. These transgenic mice are a powerful new tool researchers will use to understand the molecular and genetic components of this cancer.

Previous attempts to engineer such "Burkitt's mice" failed, but a team of scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) finally came up with the right genetic mix. "We in effect created a 'mini-gene' that reproduces the cancer as it occurs in people," says Herbert C. Morse III, M.D., chief of the immunopathology lab at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The results of this work, supported by NIAID and the National Cancer Institute (NCI), are detailed in the current issue of the Journal of Experimental Medicine.

"This new animal model may allow researchers to find ways to treat Burkitt's patients who don't respond to the standard treatment," says Dr. Morse. "It will also help us understand why the cells 'go bad' to cause this malignancy." Scientists still don't know all the factors that contribute to Burkitt's lymphoma in people, despite having created Burkitt's mice.

Scientists do know that Burkitt's lymphoma arises in the immune system, and that the groundwork for the cancer is laid when a gene called MYC (pronounced "mick") is accidentally moved from its usual spot on chromosome 8 to a new location, often on chromosome 14. Normally, the MYC gene, which stimulates cell growth, is strictly controlled by nearby regulator genes on chromosome 8. But when MYC slips away to a different chromosome, it also evades its controls. Under the looser supervision of regulatory genes that govern the immune system, MYC "goes ripping out of control," Dr. Morse explains, causing runaway growth of the immune system's B cells, which in turn leads to tumors called lym

Contact: Jeff Minerd
NIH/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

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