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News for week ending 28 June 2002


A protein that causes cancer and which is a mission-critical target for all effective therapies has been identified by two researchers.

Dr Stella Pelengaris and Dr Mike Khan, of Warwick University, English Midlands, liken the battle against cancer as a war against terrorism. Their research undermines the old complex model of how a cancer starts and identifies the protein - called c-Myc - which may be one of several targets for cancer treatment.

When switched on, c-Myc grows more cells when the body requires them. Sometimes it fails to switch off or switches itself on when it is not needed. Normally, our bodies have a fail-safe mechanism that causes cells to ``kill themselves'' off if c-Myc malfunctions.

The switching off of the protein and the failure of the cell "suicide'' mechanism are two of the mutations required to start a cancer. But many researchers believe that many more mutations are also required if the sickness is to develop, for instance a mutation for increasing the blood supply to nourish the mutation and allow cancerous cells to escape and spread their disease.

The researchers were not convinced by the need of a complex set of mutations and decided to see what would happen if they introduced to pancreatic cells just the two mutations that would create uncontrolled c-Myc.

Their experiments showed that they were correct and within days a cancer was established by just switching on the c-Myc to build more unwanted cells and inhibiting the suicide fail-safe mechanism.

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