Gene switch turns stem cells into cancer killers

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Monday, February 28, 2005

Human Genetics

A gene has been discovered that turns stem cells into cancer killers, promising new treatments that boost the body's ability to destroy tumors.

South Korean scientists from the Korea Research Institute of Bioscience and Biotechnology in Daejeon say that the gene, Vitamin D3 Upregulated Protein 1 (VDUP1), spurs stem cells to become natural killer cells.

These components of the immune system can eliminate virus-infected and cancerous cells. Research leader Inpyo Choi says the team observed that VDUP1 plays a decisive role in causing stem cells to become natural killers.

The discovery was made by examining mice bred to lack the gene. The mice had a dramatic reduction in the number and activity of natural killer cells.

Besides determining the gene's importance to the immune system, Choi and colleagues have developed technology needed to spur the creation of natural killers from a person's own bone marrow stem cells.

Choi calls this "the first step toward developing new treatments using our own immune system to fight cancers and other serious diseases."

The research is reported in the journal Immunity.