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New Method Spots Cell Changes That Spur Cancer

It should greatly speed the pace of research, scientists say

MONDAY, July 17, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. researchers say they've developed a new, faster method of identifying molecular abnormalities that cause normal cells to turn into cancer cells.

Using this technique, a team at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) Cancer Institute in Portland were able to identify a new treatment approach for acute myeloid leukemia (AML). It may also help identify other types of cancer, the researchers said.

The study was published in the July issue of the journal Cancer Cell.

"This approach makes it possible to quickly find molecular mutations that drive a patient's cancer so we can do something about it. It moves forward the personalized medicine model, where cancer treatment is tailored for each patient based on the molecular mutations at the heart of his or her cancer," Dr. Brian Druker, chairman of leukemia research at the OHSU Cancer Institute, said in a prepared statement.

The researchers wanted to develop something more efficient than DNA sequencing for detecting cancer-causing mutations in molecules. They developed a new application of mass spectrometry, an existing technology that provides a chemical snapshot of the inner workings of a cell.

"What is new is the ability to use this machine to analyze and identify larger, more complex biological molecules such as proteins, based on their structure," Jeffrey Tyner, a senior author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in Druker's lab, said in a prepared statement.

Using this new approach, it took the researchers less than two months to identify three activating mutations of the tyrosine kinase JAK3 in AML cells.

"DNA sequencing is very labor intensive, costly, time consuming, and the vast majority of mutations it identifies don't cause cancer," Tyner said.

"It may have taken years to find these mutations with DNA sequencing alone. As we streamline our process, we will be able to analyze cancer cells for mutations in a matter of just weeks," he said.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about cancer.

SOURCE: Oregon Health & Science University, news release, July 17, 2006
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