A new University College London study reveals that a gene [EPB41L3] which normally protects against ovarian cancer is switched off in 66% of ovarian cancer cases and switching it back on arrests tumor growth.
The researchers found that the “protector gene,” known as EPB41L3, is inactivated in 65 per cent of ovarian cancers and reactivating the gene halted tumor growth and triggered large numbers of ovarian cancer cells to commit suicide.
The research, co-funded by Cancer Research UK and the gynecological cancer research charity The Eve Appeal, raises the prospect for developing therapies that mimic or restore the function of the gene to kill ovarian cancer cells in a targeted way.
UCL’s Dr. Simon Gayther, who led the study, said:
“Previous studies have found similar ‘protector genes’ but ours is the first to uncover EPB41L3 as a gene specific to ovarian cancer. We also discovered that the gene is completely lost in about two-thirds of the ovarian tumours we looked at. When we switched it back on in these tumours, it had a positive effect in killing cancer cells. This is a very exciting result because it means therapies that mimic or reactivate this gene could be a way to kill many ovarian cancers.”
The scientists, based at UCL’s Institute of Women’s Health, used a cutting-edge approach which involves transferring whole chromosomes into ovarian cancer cells. They found that introducing an additional copy of chromosome 18 boosted the activity of 14 key genes, triggering large numbers of the cancer cells to die.
The scientists examined more than 800 ovarian tumors and found that one of the 14 genes – EPB41L3 – was inactivated in around 66% of malignant ovarian tumors, compared to 24% of benign tumors and 0% of normal ovarian cells.
Reactivating the gene had the same deadly effect on the cancer cells, suggesting that it was the trigger that was causing the cells to self-destruct.
Jane Lyons, CEO of The Eve Appeal, said:
“This research is an exciting step forward – a gene has been identified that can help halt the growth and spread of ovarian cancers. The challenge now is for the researchers and clinicians to find a way to use this new information to increase survival from the disease.”
Dr. Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said:
“We know that there is a class of genes that protect us from developing cancer. This is an exciting new one specific to ovarian cancer. Advanced ovarian cancer is very difficult to cure, which makes this type of research even more important.”
- Dafou D., Grun B., Sinclair J., et. al. Microcell mediated chromosome transfer identifies EPB41L3 as a functional suppressor of epithelial ovarian cancers. 2010 Neoplasia July 12(7): [pending].
- UCL scientists discover how to switch cancer ‘protector’ gene on, UCL News, University College London, July 5, 2010.