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Cancer-causing gene mutations are 'simpler than thought'

Cancer-causing gene mutations are 'simpler than thought'
31st May 2012

The mutations to genes that cause cancer have been found to be far less complex than originally thought.

Often when a person inherits the same gene from two parents, one copy is deleted. This is known as a hemizygous deletion and is linked to cancer but the cause has been elusive.

They found that tumour suppressing genes, also known as STOP genes, are often scattered throughout a genome. However when they are all clustered together as a group, they also risk being deleted en masse.

Stephen Elledge, a professor in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, and his post-doctoral fellow Nicole Solimini, explained that if a tumour suppressor is haploinsufficient, then a single gene copy lacks the potency needed to fully restrain the growth of tumours.

"So by removing clusters of haploinsufficient genes all at once, the cancer cell immediately propels its growth forward without having to wait for the other copies to also be lost," he said.

This means that only a 50 per cent reduction in gene activity can increase cancer risk, making it a lot easier to develop the disease than first thought.

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