Study: Mouse genome has human cancer clue

March 23, 2011 at 8:45 PM
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ST. LOUIS, March 23 (UPI) -- U.S. researchers say sequencing the genome of a mouse with cancer turned up mutations that also drive cancers in humans, a step in understanding the disease.

Scientists involved in sequencing the genomes of human patients to find genetic changes at the root of cancers have compared the DNA sequences of tumor and healthy cells from each patient and uncovered a number of novel mutations underlying cancer but the process is time consuming. Human tumor cells typically display several hundred mutations and most are background alterations that occur naturally throughout the course of a person's life.

Sifting through the genetic "noise" to find the handful of mutations in each tumor that drive cancer development is challenging, researchers say. Timothy Ley and colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis thought the work could be simplified if they looked for mutations in mouse cancer.

The mice are inbred so they have fewer background mutations, a WUSM release reported Wednesday.

"This approach gives us a way to rapidly evaluate whether mutations in human tumors are likely to be important," Ley said. "If we find mutations that occur in mouse models and we see those same mutations, however rare, in human cancers, they are highly likely to be relevant.

"There's been an ongoing debate for 15 years about whether mouse models of cancer are relevant to cancer that develops in people," he said. "By sequencing this genome, I think the answer is clear: this mouse model is remarkably similar to the human disease. This gives us a new way to use whole-genome sequencing to rapidly identify the most relevant mutations in human cancers."

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