Canadian Cancer Society researcher discovers tumour suppressing gene

01 August 2007

A Canadian Cancer Society researcher has discovered a novel gene that suppresses the growth of human tumours in cancers including breast, lung, and liver cancers, as well as melanomas, lymphomas and sarcomas.

The study, led by Dr Poul Sorensen, found that a gene, called HACE1, appears to have the ability to help cells deal with various forms of stress, including environmental cancer triggers that cause tumour formation. When the HACE1 gene is missing or inactive, cancerous cells are able to form tumours, and when the gene is re-expressed, it prevents these cells from forming tumours.

Dr Sorensen, a researcher at the BC Cancer Agency, says, “The discovery of this gene is very exciting because it clearly impacts a wide range of cancers, and provides a novel link between cellular stress and cancer. If we can learn how to reactivate HACE1 or block cancer cells from inactivating this gene, it may be possible to improve treatments for many cancer patients.”

In their study, researchers knocked out the gene in mice. They hypothesized that the mice would be more susceptible to tumour growth, and  various tumours did form but at a low rate. However, when the mice were also subjected to various forms of stress, including ultraviolet radiation, lung carcinogens, or other genetic alterations, this resulted in a dramatic increase in cancer growth, with the mice developing breast, lung, and liver cancers, as well as lymphomas, melanomas and sarcomas.

Researchers also re-introduced the HACE1 gene into human tumour cells and found that cells lost their ability to form tumours. Conversely, when levels of HACE1 were experimentally reduced in non-cancerous cells, the cells were able to form tumours.

The study was published August 12, 2007 in the online edition of Nature Medicine.

The next step for the researchers will now be to study the biological mechanism that enables HACE1 to deal with cancer stress and block tumour formation. Their grant from the BC and Yukon Division of the Society, valued at more than $750,000, continues to 2011.