New lung cancer gene found

Cancer biologists identify a driving force behind the spread of an aggressive type of lung cancer.

A major challenge for cancer biologists is figuring out which among the hundreds of genetic mutations found in a cancer cell are most important for driving the cancer's spread.

 
Image: National Cancer Institute

Using a new technique called whole-genome profiling, MIT scientists have now pinpointed a gene that appears to drive progression of small cell lung cancer, an aggressive form of lung cancer accounting for about 15 per cent of lung cancer cases.

The gene, which the researchers found over-expressed in both mouse and human lung tumours, could lead to new drug targets, says Alison Dooley, a recent PhD recipient in the lab of Tyler Jacks, director of MIT's David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. Dooley is the lead author of a paper describing the finding in the July 15 issue of Genes and Development.

Small cell lung cancer kills about 95 percent of patients within five years of diagnosis; scientists do not yet have a good understanding of which genes control it. Dooley and her colleagues studied the disease's progression using a strain of mice, developed in the laboratory of Anton Berns at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, that deletes two key tumor-suppressor genes, p53 and Rb.

''The mouse model recapitulates what is seen in human disease. It develops very aggressive lung tumors, which metastasize to sites where metastases are often seen in humans,'' such as the liver and adrenal glands, Dooley says.