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New family of genes could serve as a potential cancer marker


A new family of genes called Novel Structure Proteins (NSP) discovered by researchers in the Sbarro Institute for Cancer Research and Molecular Medicine in Temple University’s College of Science and Technology could have the potential for predicting the possibility of tumor growth in a patient.

The study was done by Nianli Sang, Ph.D., then a doctoral student at the University and now an assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson University and the Cardeza Foundation. It was initiated and led by Antonio Giordano, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Sbarro Institute and co-director of the Center for Biotechnology at Temple. Their findings, "A gene highly expressed in tumor cells encodes novel structure proteins," are reported in the latest issue of Oncogene (Vol. 23, No. 58).

"We succeeded in cloning several related but distinct cDNA that encode for novel structure proteins," says Giordano. "The identification of these clones shows that these genes are unique and that the major structure of these genes encodes for a region of our chromosome that is important to its structural maintenance. Therefore, this gene could be very important in controlling the backbone of our cells."

Giordano says that their initial analysis shows that this family of genes sits mostly in the nucleus of our cells and exhibits the characteristics of a tumor-promoting gene. One form of the gene, NSP5a3a, is highly expressed in some tumor cell lines and could be very useful as a tumor marker, he adds.

"Knowing the genetic status of this family of genes and understanding how the alteration of NSP can affect that genetic status could be a strong indicator of malignancy," explains Giordano. "By analyzing this gene, we may be able to predict the possibility of tumor growth."

Giordano, who discovered the tumor-suppressing gene Rb2/p130 and others such as Cdk9 and Cdk10, says his Temple institute plans further study on the protein that is encoded by the gene. Next steps could include generating tools that would allow researchers to develop a more precise diagnostic test into whether the cells containing NSP are potentially tumorigenic.

He adds that the in the future this gene may also be used as a specific target for cancer therapies. Drugs could be developed that would inhibit the genes’ tumor-promoting activity, he says.

"The discovery of NSP adds another important player to the race for understanding the molecular mechanisms behind the transformation for normal cells into cancer cells," says Giordano. "This family of genes is going to add another critical tool in trying to understand the errors of genetic language and the progression of cancer, therefore giving researchers possible new solutions to reversing this dreadful disease."

Preston M. Moretz | EurekAlert!
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