Eureka Alert

VIDEO: This video shows mammalian cells proliferation. The colors represent different phases of the cell cycle. view more 

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New research led by Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital has unmasked hundreds of cancer-driving genes and revealed that different tissue types have shockingly variable sensitivities to those genes.

The findings, published online in Cell on March 22, promise to improve scientists’ understanding of normal and malignant cell proliferation. They also help explain why individual cancer drivers appear in some tumors and not others and could inspire more tissue-specific strategies for cancer treatment.

“Genes that regulate pancreatic cancer make pancreatic cells proliferate but not breast cells, and vice versa,” said the study’s senior author, Stephen Elledge, professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s and the Gregor Mendel Professor of Genetics and of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “The degree to which we see different cells respond to different genes is unprecedented.”

Hidden players

Although a certain amount of cell growth and division, or proliferation, is essential for maintaining health, cancer steps on the gas pedal so cells proliferate with abandon.

Some genes drive harmful proliferation because they’ve been mutated. Other genes remain intact but still fuel tumor growth because they’ve


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