Potential new eye tumour treatment discovered

New research from a team including several Carnegie scientists demonstrates that a specific small segment of RNA could play a key role in the growth of a type of malignant childhood eye tumour called retinoblastoma.

The tumour is associated with mutations of a protein called Rb, or retinoblastoma protein.

Dysfunctional Rb is also involved with other types of cancers, including lung, brain, breast and bone. Their work, which will be the cover story of the August 15th issue of Genes & Development, could result in a new therapeutic target for treating this rare form of cancer and potentially other cancers as well.

MicroRNAs are a short, single strands of genetic material that bind to longer strands of messenger RNA - which is the courier that brings the genetic code from the DNA in the nucleus to the cell's ribosome, where it is translated into protein.

This binding activity allows microRNAs to silence the expression of select genes in a targeted manner. Abnormal versions of microRNAs have been implicated in the growth of several types of cancer.

The paper from Carnegie's Karina Conkrite, Maggie Sundby, and David MacPherson - as well as authors from other institutions - focuses on a cluster of microRNAs called miR-17~92. Recent research has shown that aberrant versions of this cluster are involved in preventing pre-cancerous cells from dying and allowing them to proliferate into tumours.