Cancer genes---more common than we thought

Sixty-six authors and 14 international institutions were involved in the work reported in the March 8th edition of Nature (volume 446, pages 153-158) under the title, "Patterns of Somatic mutation in human cancer genomes." The group found:

...evidence for 'driver' mutations [approximately 120 genes] contributing to the development of the cancers. . . Systematic sequencing of cancer genomes therefore reveals the evolutionary diversity of cancers and implicates a larger repertoire of cancer genes than previously anticipated.

Since Nature articles are available only to subscribers, I have extracted comment on the article from It's second-hand information, but useful for those of us not immersed in the science. Here's what the author, Michael Hopkin, said:

The range of mutations that can drive cancer growth could be much wider than thought. An international research effort called the Cancer Genome Project has identified around 120 new genes that contain mutations promoting the disease.

The researchers used data generated by the human genome project to sift through a family of 500 genes, called kinase genes, linked to cell growth and division. Defects in some of these genes have already been linked to cancer.

Using cell samples from 210 different types of cancer, they searched for mutations in the genes of these cells that are not present in those of non-cancerous cells. They found more than 1,000 cancer-specific mutations, of which around 150 are thought to be 'driver' genes, which trigger the rampant growth of cancer cells.

This information seems consistent with cancer as "the ultimate cellular disease". The very genes that help our cells develop and multiply normally may be the same ones that can become the genes that stimulate and sustain cancerous growth. What we cannot tell from this research is whether the patients with cancer started with different genes--i.e, they were genetically predisposed to the cancer they later developed--or acquired them through environmentally-caused changes during life. Probably, a combination of the two factors is what happened.

In any case, research on cancer genes--using the human genome--continues at a rapid pace.

Marie Godfrey, PhD




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