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Newly discovered gene works to stem cancer-cell growth

Researchers have discovered a gene they hope to use to suppress cancer-tumor growth  
October 8, 1998
Web posted at: 9:24 p.m. EDT (0124 GMT)

From Medical Correspondent Dr. Steve Salvatore

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have discovered a gene that works to control the growth of cancer cells.

"We know it's involved in colon and lung cancer and there's very strong suspicion that it's involved in breast cancer, cervical cancer, head and neck cancer and maybe some others as well," said researcher Dr. Glen Evans.

The gene produces a protein that removes phosphate from molecules that regulate cell growth, keeping the cells under control. When the gene works improperly, phosphate builds up, the cells divide out of control and develop into cancer.

Scientists hope to use the gene to suppress cancer tumor growth.

"If we can figure out how to stop that or how to remove those phosphates and get that balance back into normal levels, that should turn off the tumor," Evans said.

Researchers said it might be possible to run a test to see if someone is at risk for cancer within the next two to three years.

"If you identify a population at risk for death, it's much easier to get them to change their behavior -- both to never start smoking in the beginning and to stop if they are smoking and have this high-risk gene," said Dr. Harmon Eyre of the American Cancer Society.

Scientists are undertaking an effort called the Human Genome Project to identify all 70,000 to 80,000 human genes within the next several years.

They say once all the cancer genes are identified, it will lead to better treatments, prevention and possibly even a cancer cure.

"In the long run, it's very clear that we will discover how to cure cancer," Eyre said. "It's just a question of time and a question of complete understanding. This is a major step in that direction."

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