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MUHC researchers develop new model to identify ovarian cancer genes

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Published: 15 Aug 2006

This innovative research, published in the journal Oncogene, is a significant step towards improving treatment for this devastating disease that kills more than two-thirds of people diagnosed.

Researchers from the MUHC have developed a new model to identify ovarian cancer genes. This innovative research, published in the journal Oncogene, is a significant step towards improving treatment for this devastating disease that kills more than two-thirds of people diagnosed.

"Our findings now provide tangible targets for effective drug development. Up to now, there has been little in the way of treatment options for this disease, which is one of the most lethal of cancers," says Dr. Patricia Tonin, MUHC cancer geneticist and associate professor of Medicine and Human Genetics at McGill University. "This model not only allows us to identify the specific human chromosome 3 genes responsible for affecting tumour growth, but also has great potential to pinpoint genes in the entire human genome that would be most affected by this process.

"Ovarian cancer studies have shown the alteration of hundreds of genes. The challenge is to identify those genes that affect ovarian cancer from those which don't. Our model can be used to do just that, so that we can focus our attention on those genes most likely to affect tumour growth."

Tonin, along with Dr. Mario Chevrette, MUHC molecular biologist and assistant professor of Surgery at McGill University, and colleagues at the Institut du cancer de Montréal and the Centre-Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM), used a novel DNA transfer technique to move DNA from a non-tumour cell line to a human ovarian cancer cell line. The newly created cell line was then assessed for its ability to form tumours. Ovarian cancer cells that took up the non-tumour DNA lost their ability to produce these tumours. Subsequent genetic analyses revealed that a group of genes located on chromosome 3 genes were responsible for converting the cancer cell line into a non-tumour cell line. In addition, specific genes elsewhere in the human genome were affected in this process, some of which were novel and others never before studied in ovarian cancer.

This research was funded in part by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). "Too many women die of ovarian cancer each year," says Dr. Philip Branton, scientific director of the CIHR Institute of Cancer Research. "This is groundbreaking work. The more we can understand about what causes tumours to develop and what stimulates their growth, the greater are our chances of targeted treatments for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer."

Ovarian cancer starts in the cells of the ovaries — the egg-producing reproductive organs on either side of the womb. There are three main types of ovarian cancer: epithelial, germ and stromal. This year alone 2,300 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed and approximately 1,600 women will die from the disease.

The Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI MUHC) is a world-renowned biomedical and health care hospital research centre. Located in Montreal, Quebec, the institute is the research arm of the MUHC, a university health centre affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University. The institute supports over 500 researchers, nearly 1,000 graduate and postdoctoral students, and operates more than 300 laboratories devoted to a broad spectrum of fundamental and clinical research. The Research Institute operates at the forefront of knowledge, innovation and technology and is inextricably linked to the clinical programs of the MUHC, ensuring that patients benefit directly from the latest research-based knowledge. For further details visit www.muhc.ca/research.

The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) is a comprehensive academic health institution with an international reputation for excellence in clinical programs, research and teaching. The MUHC is a merger of five teaching hospitals affiliated with the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University — the Montreal Children's, Montreal General, Royal Victoria, and Montreal Neurological Hospitals, as well as the Montreal Chest Institute. Building on the tradition of medical leadership of the founding hospitals, the goal of the MUHC is to provide patient care based on the most advanced knowledge in the health care field, and to contribute to the development of new knowledge. www.muhc.ca

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada's agency for health research. CIHR's mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to catalyze its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health care system. Composed of 13 institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to over 10,000 health researchers and trainees across Canada. www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca

Visit www.nature.com for more details of the study.

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