A tool that tells where cancer begins
Researchers are taking the first step to create a tool that can identify the origin of certain types of cancer.
“The same cancer can occur because of different genes, but in certain cases the aggressiveness and the type of treatment actually depend a lot on what oncogene caused that cancer,” says Livia Eberlin.
An oncogene is a normal gene that has mutated, causing cells to become cancerous. In this study, published in PNAS, the team members looked at an oncogene that is related to lymphoma and responsible for approximately half of all human cancers. They wanted to find a biological signature that would trace the mutating cancer cells back to the original oncogene.
“When cancer takes place, the cell loves to gobble up glucose—that’s a sugar—and glutamine,” says chemistry professor Richard Zare. “It takes those and makes different lipids—different fatty molecules than what it normally makes.”
‘It’s not just diagnostic’
Using an elegant statistical method from Robert Tibshirani, professor of health research and policy (biostatistics) and of statistics, the team was able to identify not just one, but 86 lipids that can be traced back to the oncogene.
“It’s not just diagnostic,” Eberlin says, a postdoctoral scholar in chemistry at Stanford and the primary researcher. “It gives extra information that could be prognostic.”
Depending on the bio-signature of the cancer cells, physicians will have a better idea of the aggressiveness of a patient’s cancer. In the future, this research may lead to a better knowledge of cancer in general.
“The next step,” says Dean Felsher, professor of medicine (oncology) and pathology, “is to use this as a way to figure out the causal mechanism.” Though the connection between the cancer cells and their origin is clear, the actual cause of cancer—the biological trigger that pushes cancer to progress—is still mysterious.
“How does cancer really work? This is a tool to understand the nature of how cancer progresses,” says Zare.
Source: Stanford University
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