The study appears in today's issue of Genes and Development.
Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers say they've found that Ras uses different pathways to cause cancer in mice than it does to cause cancer in humans.
The Duke researchers say Ras activates an obscure group of proteins in humans, an action that turns normal cells malignant. Ras doesn't do the same thing in mice, but many cancer treatments are based on data taken from experiments with mice.
"Our study highlights a little-known pathway that appears to play a critical role in the ability of Ras to transform human cells, but not mouse cells, to become tumorigenic," says cancer biologist Christopher Counter.
"This pathway could present a new protein target for anti-cancer drugs in humans, and it reinforces the inherent differences between human and mouse cancers in terms of how they evolve," he says.
Ras is activated in a third of all human cancers and in 90 percent of some forms of cancer, such as pancreatic cancer.
In this study, the researchers genetically modified human and mouse cells to express mutated forms of Ras. The scientists then tracked how the protein produced by the Ras gene caused those cells to transform.
Here is an overview on how mice have been used in research from the University of California.