Reporter 405, 30 June 1997


Gene discovery set to improve treatment of cancer patients

Research at Leeds has identified a novel gene in cancers which puts some patients at greater risk of suffering a recurrence of the disease.

The study has concentrated on colonic and rectal cancer – the second most common cancer in the UK, causing nearly 40,000 new cases and almost 20,000 deaths a year.

It appears that the new genetic marker is activated in about half these cancer patients. The discovery of this gene could help surgeons identify 'high risk' patients who need additional treatment with radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

The research team, led by Professor Pierre Guillou of the Professorial Surgical Unit and Professor Alex Markham of the University's Molecular Medicine Unit, examined colo-rectal cancer tissue samples and discovered that patients in which the particular gene is 'switched on' have reduced survival chances. This gene, known as the 'REG' gene, is also an indicator of risk of future recurrence.

The way in which the new marker affects the cancer remains unknown, although researchers are currently developing antibodies to the product of the activated gene. Professor Guillou said the work was shedding light on why some people with cancer do badly after surgery. "It fits with current ideas about genetic predisposition to colo-rectal cancer," he said. "Our research could also lead to tests to see if people are responding well to cancer treatments."

Patent applications on these discoveries have been assigned to Zeneca Diagnostics Ltd, which will pay royalties to the University on sales of related diagnostic products and services. The company is also funding an additional three-year research project. Related studies are being funded by the Medical Research Council.

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