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An abnormality among genes where the packages of DNA fuse together may drive the onset of prostate cancer, according to US research.
A study from the University of Michigan found that gene fusions occurred only in cancer cells and not in normal ones. The process involves the segments of nucleic acid swapping places with each other.
The report, published in the journal Nature, suggests that identification of the mechanism could be used as a diagnostic tool or offer new targets for drug development.
Professor Arul Chinnaiyan said: “We defined a new class of mutations in prostate cancer. The recurrent fusions are thought to be the driving mechanism of cancer. But we found other fusions as well, some of which were unique to individual patients.
“Our next step is to understand if these play a role in driving disease.”
The process of gene fusion is already known to play a role in blood cell cancers such as leukaemia and lymphoma, and Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone disease.
Professor Chinnaiyan’s team is also investigating possible gene fusions in breast, lung and skin cancer.
Copyright Press Association 2009