London: Scientists have identified a gene that slows the spread of pancreatic cancer tumours, a finding they say could lead to new targeted treatments for the deadliest disease.
An international team of researchers found that the gene, called USP9x, is switched off in some pancreatic cancer cells mice. But when turned on, the gene stops cancerous cells from dividing uncontrollably, the researchers said.
The gene is not mutated, but other proteins and chemicals become stuck to it and turn the gene off.
Drugs having the potential to turn the gene back on can help stop the spread of the fifth most deadly cancer that affects nearly 8,000 people in the UK alone every year.
Prof David Tuveson, of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute, said: "We suspected that the fault wasn`t in the genetic code at all, but in the chemical tags on the surface of the DNA that switch genes on and off, and by running more lab tests we were able to confirm this.
"Drugs which strip away these tags are already showing promise in lung cancer and this study suggests they could also be effective," Prof Tuveson was quoted as saying by the BBC.
Dr David Adams, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: "This study strengthens our emerging understanding that we must also look into the biology of cells to identify all the genes that play a role in cancer."
They argue that up to 15 per cent of pancreatic cancers could be down the turning this one gene off.
"These results raise the possibility that a class of promising new cancer drugs may be effective at treating some pancreatic cancers," added Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK`s senior science information manager. The study is published in the journal Nature.