An examination of 130 gene expression studies in 10 solid cancers has found that when any of four related genes is overexpressed, patients have much worse outcomes, including reduced survival. Researchers from the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center say their study, published online on February 3, 2016 in Oncotarget, shows that certain members of the Ly6 family of genes allow cancer cells to act like cancer stem cells -- which keep dividing and growing without pause. The title of the Oncotarget article is “Distinct Lymphocyte Antigens 6 (Ly6) Family Members Ly6D, Ly6E, Ly6K, and Ly6H Drive Tumorigenesis and Clinical Outcome.” "These are remarkable findings. We believe this family of genes produces cancer that easily metastasizes, is drug resistant, and [is] very difficult to destroy," says the study's senior investigator, Geeta Upadhyay, Ph.D., Research Assistant Professor of Oncology at Georgetown Lombardi. Dr. Upadhyay and her collaborators are currently working on novel agents that can inhibit Ly6 gene expression. Dr. Upadhyay's research was initially based on Sca1, a mouse gene investigators use to check for the presence of cancer stem cells in animals. In 2011, Dr. Upadhyay had found that Sca1 was more than just a biomarker -- it played a key role in creating and maintaining the stem-like quality in cancer cells. She then looked to see if Sca1 works the same way in humans, and found a family of Ly6 genes that mapped to the chromosomal location in humans that corresponds to where the Sca1 gene resides in the mouse genome. The Ly6 family of genes was structurally similar to Sca1 as well. The current study was designed to determine if any of the genes in the Ly6 family are important in human cancer.
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