January 13, 2008, Updated September 13, 2012

Work by a team of Israeli and international researchers into genes could pave the way for future cancer treatments.For a long time, scientists have known that some genes are associated with cancer. But thanks to the efforts of a combined team of Israeli, US and German researchers, the subtle nature of this link may soon be better understood.

Using a technique known as ‘computational biology,’ the scientists were able to identify 480 human genes which are involved in cell division processes – of which 100, they say, behave abnormally in cancerous cells.

Though still in its preliminary stages, the research is likely to pave the way for future treatment targeting specific genes associated with malignancies, professor Itamar Simon of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem told Science Daily. “We have narrowed down the field of candidates. Instead of looking at thousands of genes, we can now concentrate on about 100,” he said.

The team, which also included Zahava Siegfried and Michael Brandeis from the Hebrew University’s departments of cellular biochemistry and genetics, had to find a way to deal with a longstanding problem in genetic research – how to study genes associated with the cell division cycle without interrupting the cycle process itself.

By using a computer science technique called ‘deconvolution,’ they were able to obtain data using DNA micro arrays, a biological chip made of microscopic DNA samples, to chart the expression of different genes throughout the cell cycle.

According to co-lead author Associate Professor Ziv Bar-Joseph, of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science, the results were surprising, indicating that some genetic mutations associated with cancer may be caused by the irregular operations of the cell cycle, rather than vice versa.

The team’s findings, which are published this week in the online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science,, suggest that certain genes can contribute to the formation of tumor tissue by expressing themselves irregularly – not, that is, simply because they are absent from a chromosome.

“There are many genes that are present and yet still involved in cancer because they are not activated, or expressed, in the way they normally are,” noted Simon.


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