Scientists have identified an oncogene (a cancer-causing gene) responsible for glioblastoma, the deadliest brain tumor. The discovery offers a promising new treatment target for a cancer that is always fatal. The researchers say the oncogene is essential to the survival of the cancer cells. Without it, the cancer cells die. Scientists have already developed many targeted therapies for other cancers with a similar "oncogene addiction." "Glioblastoma is one of the deadliest cancers. Unfortunately, there is no effective treatment option for the disease. The current standard option, radiation plus temozolomide, which displayed a 2.5-month better survival rate, was hailed as a great success. Clearly, better understanding and new therapeutic targets are urgently needed," said researcher Hui Li, PhD, of the University of Virginia (UVA) School of Medicine and the UVA Cancer Center. "The novel oncogene we discovered promises to be an Achilles' heel of glioblastoma, with its specific targeting potentially an effective approach for the treatment of the disease." Oncogenes are naturally occurring genes that spiral out of control and cause cancer. The oncogene that Dr. Li and his colleagues identified, avilllin (AVIL), normally helps cells maintain their size and shape. But the gene can be shifted into overdrive by a variety of factors, the researchers found. This causes cancer cells to form and spread. Blocking the gene's activity completely destroyed glioblastoma cells in lab mice but had no effect on healthy cells. This suggests targeting the gene could be an effective treatment option.
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