August 15, 2007 - Dr. Poul Sorensen led a group of BC Cancer Agency scientists in the discovery of a novel gene that suppresses the growth of human tumors in multiple cancers, including breast, lung, and liver cancers, as well as melanomas, lymphomas and sarcomas.
The study, which is published in the online publication of Nature Medicine, found that the HACE1 gene has the ability to help cells deal with various forms of stress, including environmental cancer triggers that cause tumor formation. According to the study, when the HACE1 gene is missing or inactive, cancerous cells are able to form tumors, and when the gene is re-expressed, it prevents these cells from forming tumors.
The study was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Josef Penninger of the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
"The discovery of this gene is very exciting because it clearly impacts a wide range of cancers, and provides a novel link between cellular stress and cancer," said Dr. Sorensen, Senior Scientist at the BC Cancer Agency, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. "If we can learn how to reactivate HACE1 or block cancer cells from inactivating this gene, it may be possible to improve treatments for many cancer patients."
Researchers also reintroduced the HACE1 gene into human tumor cells and found that cells lost their ability to form tumors. Conversely, when levels of HACE1 were experimentally reduced in noncancerous cells, they were able to form tumors.
"We've always suspected that cancer is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors working together," said Dr. Sorensen. "Our results give us insight into how the disease takes root when a single gene is inactivated."
The next step is to study the biological mechanism that enables HACE1 to deal with cancer stress and block tumor formation.
The BC Cancer Foundation provides core support for research at the BC Cancer Agency. Support for this research project was also provided by the National Cancer Institute of Canada, the Children's Oncology Group, and the Johal Endowed Chair in Childhood Cancer Research through the BC Children's Hospital Foundation.
For more information: www.bccancer.bc.ca