Cancer-associated genes called oncogenes are well known to stimulate cell growth and division--causing tumors to balloon and spread. But now, researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine and Sarafan ChEM-H have found that one notorious oncogene called Myc also has a direct role in disguising growing cancers from the immune system. Myc is associated with more than 70% of human cancers, and blowing these cancers’ cover could lead to a new class of cancer therapy, the researchers believe. They found that a key component of the Myc-induced camouflage is a sugar molecule coating on the surface of cancer cells. This sugar sends a “stand down” signal to immune cells called macrophages that would normally engulf and destroy the cancer cells. The discovery links two seemingly unrelated previous observations: Cancer cells differ from healthy cells in the patterns of sugars on their surface, and the Myc oncogene somehow protects cancer cells from the immune system by increasing the production of specific proteins in the cells. Deciphering the connection required the collaboration of two labs, one run by sugar chemist and recent Nobel Prize winner Carolyn Bertozzi, PhD, and another headed by cancer expert Dean Felsher, MD, PhD, both at Stanford.
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