Researchers at Queen's University have found a link between two genes involved in cancer formation in humans.
The groundbreaking discovery could offer a foundation for how tumor-forming genes interact, and may offer a drug target for cancer treatment.
"When cancer hijacks a healthy system, it can create tumors by causing cells to divide when they shouldn't. Certain genes control the normal movement and growth of cells, and by studying how these genes interact, we can understand what is abnormal when cancer is present," said Ian Chin-Sang, a developmental biologist at Queen's and lead researcher on the study.
There is an important gene in humans called PTEN that acts as a tumor suppressor. When the PTEN gene function is lost, it can lead to cancers.
Another gene family, called Eph receptors, often shows high levels in cancers, but a connection between PTEN and Eph Receptors in cancer formation has never been shown.
The Queen's study shows the remarkable relationship between these genes in worms. When the scientists increased Eph receptor levels in worms, the PTEN levels diminished and the worms died prematurely.
When they decreased the Eph receptor level in the worm, the PTEN levels went up and the worm lived longer than normal.
The researchers believe that the same principals are applicable to humans.
"Obviously humans and worms look very different, but at a molecular level, they are very similar. In some instances, like the ones we are studying, the cellular mechanisms are so similar that the human genes can replace the worm's gene," states Professor Chin-Sang.
Next, the researchers are planning to take a closer look at the interaction of these two genes in humans.
The findings could lead to exciting breakthroughs in cancer treatment.