Inside Salk - October 2009 - page 7

C O V E R S T O R Y
Inside SalkOctober 2009
7
The discovery opened the door to new areas of cancer re-
search, which has led to a deeper understanding of the disease
over the last three decades. Today, scientists can now identify
and quantify the steps that lead to cancer in the body. There
is also growing evidence that chronic inflammation can also
induce cancer, especially in the liver and pancreas, the latter
of which claimed the life of actor Patrick Swayze in September.
Interestingly, some of the rare cases inwhich patients inherit
defective copies of either oncogenes or tumor suppressors have
helped scientists zero in on genes that are involved in specific
types of cancer in the rest of the population.
“The genes shared bymembers of a single family are 99
percent identical so you can pinpoint the key genetic differ-
ence between the familymember who got cancer and the one
who didn’t,” Shaw explains. “Then you study the genes of a
completely unrelated cancer patient and trace themutation
back to that same spot in their DNA and bingo, you’ve found
the cancer-causing gene.”
There are approximately 22,000 genes in the human
genome. To date scientists have identified and decodedmore
than 300 cancer-causing genes, which has enabled researchers
tomatch them upwith the types of cancer they induce. This
in turn has led to the development of drugs to counteract the
activity of thesemutant genes.
Researchers at the Salk’s Cancer Center have identified a
number of them. Oncogenes FOS andMOS, which aremutated
in fibrosarcomas, and REL, which leads to lymphosarcomas,
were identified by
Inder Verma
, an American Cancer Society
professor in the Laboratory of Genetics.
»
WEB EXTRA
To watch video of our interviewwithNobel Laureate
Renato Dulbecco
, visit
This is what’s great about science. ‘I’ve got this
crazy idea, but it’s a good crazy idea because it
suggests an experiment.’
– Geoff Wahl
»
WEB EXTRA
To hear
Geoff Wahl
discuss p53 further,
visit
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