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Potential cancer treatment is discovered

STANFORD, Calif., July 31 (UPI) -- U.S. cancer researchers have discovered a potential new genetic treatment that causes tumors in mice to self-destruct.

The researchers, led by Stanford University Associate Professor Dean Felsher, discovered switching off a single malfunctioning gene can halt the limitless division of tumor cells.

Felsher said the possibility a cell's natural mechanism for ensuring its mortality could be used to vanquish tumors opens the door to a new approach for developing anti-cancer drugs.

The gene Felsher's team studied produces a protein called Myc, which promotes cell division. A mutation of the gene causes cells to overproduce the protein, prompting perpetual cell division and tumor growth. By turning off the mutated gene, the researchers found not only did uncontrolled cell division cease but the cells also reactivated a normal physiological mechanism, called senescence, which makes it possible for a cell to eventually die.

"What was unexpected was just the fact that cancer cells had retained the ability to undergo senescence at all," said Felsher. Cancer researchers had long thought senescence had to be irreversibly disrupted for a tumor to develop.

The study appears in the advance online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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