Scientists find gene trigger for cancer

SCIENTISTS ARE claiming a breakthrough in the understanding of what triggers cancer by discovering the key steps that turn healthy human cells into tumours.

The researchers believe that knowing the precise stages in cancer development could result in new drugs to block tumour growth.

By tinkering with the genes known to be involved in cancer, scientists led by Robert Weinberg of the Whitehead Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have for the first time stimulated the growth of an "artificial" human tumour.

"Until now, the human cancer cell has been a black box with an unknown number of regulatory changes," Dr Weinberg said.

"Now we have been able to catalogue the number of changes with precision," he added.

The team of scientists has shown that there are four crucial steps to the development of a cancer, which happen when a healthy cell suddenly begins to divide uncontrollably to form a tumour.

"If we can somehow rebuild one of these steps in the tumour cell, then we may stop the evolution of the tumour cell," said Moshe Yaniv of the Pasteur Institute in Paris and a member of the research team.

Dr Weinberg said that discovery of the genetic faults leading to cancer would be particularly useful in understanding what happens in the later stages of disease when cancer cells begin to spread in the body. One of the steps involves a naturally occurring enzyme called telomerase that is known to be involved in setting a cell's internal "clock", which limits its lifespan.

"The next question we asked ourselves was whether telomerase is [switched] on in cancer cells because the cells need the enzyme to grow or whether it just comes along for the ride," said William Hahn, a research scientist at the Whitehead Institute.

Two oncogenes - genes that can control the development of cancer - were also found to be necessary for the full sequence of events involved in the growth of a tumour to unfold.

"One important conclusion from this study is that there are not an infinite number of cellular changes separating cancer cells from normal cells, but that tumour development is a finite process," Dr Hahn said.

The research, published in the journal Nature, ends a 15-year search to find the precise stages leading to full cancer development.

Dr Gerard Evan, of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, said: "Identification of these events in the process of cancer cell formation opens up ways of effectively identifying and targeting the errors peculiar to human cancer cells, paving the way for more effective therapies in the future."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence