Indian Scientists Dispute Decade-Old Cancer Biology Principles

Cancers figure among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, with approximately 14 million new cases and 8.2 million cancer related deaths in 2012, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The number of new cases is expected to rise by about 70 per cent over the next 2 decades, according to WHO.

Indian scientists at Columbia University in the US have challenged a decade-old dogma in cancer biology by showing that a gene critical for preventing cancer did not work as thought of previously.

The gene whose role in cancer development has till now baffled scientists around the world is commonly known as A20 or TNFAIP3.

It functions properly in healthy individuals. However, individuals develop cancer if for some reason the gene fails to function. Thus, many cancer patients are known to carry a dysfunctional variety of the gene.

The scientists came up with the first animal model of A20 to understand how this gene works in the body. Based on results over the past decade, they expected that these animals would develop cancer. But to their surprise, they found that the animals had a largely healthy life-span.

The work was carried out by Indian scientist Arnab De, during his doctorate study at Columbia University with renowned Indian-American immunologist Sankar Ghosh.

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Chozha Rathinam, also of Indian origin, and Teruki Dainichi, currently at the Kyoto University, are the other authors of the report and who supported the research study.

The research work was highlighted by the peer-reviewed European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) Reports, which highlights only articles considered to be of “fundamental relevance to a general readership”.

Professor Henning Walczak, Scientific Director of Cancer Research UK and Chairman of University College London, noted the importance the work.

“If A20 cannot function as a result of hereditary mutations or infection, it results in serious pathologies, including cancer,” he said.

“Before this work, there was no animal model to understand how this critical tumor suppress or works.

“Having an animal model now, significantly improves our ability to investigate how A20 works and this study already goes a long way in clarifying how A20 fails to work properly in patients and, as a consequence thereof, in developing potential cancer therapeutics,” Prof Walczak said.

The WHO website states that more than 100 different types of cancer exists, each requiring unique diagnosis and treatment.

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