In cancer research, scientists usually look for cancer genes by scouring the genome for altered sequences — or mutations — in DNA. But a new study has now revealed that jumping genes, which customary sequencing overlooks, are also important drivers of tumor growth.
Scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO, found that jumping genes are widespread in cancer and promote tumor growth by forcing cancer genes to remain switched on, Medical News Today reports.
They analyzed 7,769 tumor samples from 15 different types of cancer and found 129 jumping genes that can drive tumor growth through their influence on 106 different cancer genes.
The jumping genes were functioning as "stealthy on-switches" in 3,864 of the tumors that the team analyzed. These tumors came from breast, colon, lung, skin, prostate, brain, and other types of cancer.
A recent Nature Genetics paper gives a full account of the study.
By identifying jumping genes as potential genetic targets, the findings break new ground in the quest for novel cancer treatments.
"If you," says Ting Wang, who is a professor of medicine in the Department of Genetics, "perform typical genome sequencing, looking for genetic mutations driving cancer, you're not going to find jumping genes."