By Calvin Palmer
Scientists at the University of Cambridge, England, have discovered a gene that is linked to half of all breast cancers.
The gene, called NRG1, gets damaged in some people during their lifetime and damaged NRG1 has been found in half of breast cancers.
It has also been implicated in half of all prostate and bowel cancers along with one quarter of ovarian and bladder cancers.
When functioning normally, the NRG1 gene acts as a brake preventing cancer cells from growing but when it becomes damaged the cancers are allowed to multiply into a tumor.
How and why the gene gets damaged is not yet known but the identification of NRG1 should enable therapies to be targeted at specific cancers in the future.
Dr Paul Edwards, of the department of pathology at the University of Cambridge, who discovered the gene with colleagues, said it provided “vital information” about how some cancers spread.
He said: “I believe NRG1 could be the most important tumour suppressor gene discovery in the last 20 years as it gives us vital information about a new mechanism that causes breast cancer.
“We found the gene on chromosome 8 partly by good luck and partly by good judgment.
“In every case that we looked at where a big chunk of chromosome 8 had been lost, at least part of the gene was lost.
“The gene was effectively ‘turned off’ in a lot of breast cancers.
“If we have found the gene that is lost on chromosome 8 and we know that some other cancers also lose that bit of chromosome 8, then it is logical that it is the same gene.
“We have got strong evidence that the gene is implicated in breast cancer but we have no reason to think it’s not the same for other cancers, including prostate and colon cancer.”
The research was published in the journal Oncogene and funded by Breast Cancer Campaign and Cancer Research UK.
The finding comes just as Breast Cancer Awareness Month gets into full swing.
NFL games played yesterday showed many players sporting pink gloves, boots and the pink ribbon motif painted on the back of their helmets. Coaches such as Wade Phillips of the Dallas Cowboys sported the pink ribbon motif on his shirt, while assistant head coach and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett wore a Cowboys baseball cap with a pink visor.
In Canada, they were more up front and got the message across with a TV advertising campaign aimed at younger viewers in which MTV Canada DJ Aliya-Jasmine Sovan walks across the screen in a small white bikini, drawing appreciative stares from everyone at the pool party.