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Health Notes: Researchers ID cancer-causing gene’s partner

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have identified a leading cancer gene’s partner in crime.

The partnership of MYC, a gene responsible for about 20 percent of cancers, and PVT1, a noncoding RNA gene, could hold the key to understanding how MYC drives cancer cells, the study says.

“We knew MYC amplifications cause cancer,” lead author Anindya Bagchi said. “But we also know that MYC does not amplify alone. We wanted to know if the neighboring genes played a role.”

Bagchi said researchers not only discovered that MYC and PVT1 amplify together, but also that PVT1 empowers MYC proteins to execute “dangerous activities” in cells.

Bagchi and his team focused on a region of the genome called 8q24, which contains MYC and is commonly associated with cancer.

Using genetically engineered mouse strains, the team experimented with the relationship between MYC and PVT1. When the genes were placed together in a sample, the team found that a tumor began to grow. But when the genes were separated, the team found no such growth.

If MYC caused cancer independently, researchers say they also would have observed tumor growth in the separate MYC sample.

“The discovery of this partnership gives us a stronger understanding of how MYC amplification is fueled,” said David Largaespanda, a professor in the university’s College of Biological Sciences. “It’s a cycle, and now we’ve identified it. We can look for ways to uncouple this dangerous partnership.”

Bagchi said the discovery might lead to new drugs that can target and control the interaction of MYC with PVT1.

MYC amplification is found in a number of cancers, including ovarian, breast and pancreatic.