Studies on genetic resistance to certain types of cancer in rats are helping University of Toronto researchers learn more about cancer resistance in humans, according to an article in the January issue of the journal Carcinogenesis.
"While scientists have already identified some genes that give people an inherited predisposition to cancer, there has been little research on inherited resistance to cancer," says Michael Archer, the studies' principal investigator and a professor of medical biophysics in the Faculty of Medicine. Since cancer resistance is "invisible," it is extremely difficult to identify in humans and animal models must be used. Researchers have found some strains of rats are highly resistant to specific cancers, and Archer's lab has discovered the precise cellular mechanisms that confer this resistance. In addition to finding that the mechanism of resistance seems to be similar in different resistant tissues, he has made some surprising discoveries about the cellular processes involved. "When cancer-causing agents are introduced into the rats' bodies, the animals develop pre-cancerous lesions but then, over a period of time, the cells return to normal," he says.
With this information, he and his colleagues are now trying to identify the genes, called tumour-modifier genes, involved in the rats' resistance to cancer. "We anticipate that knowledge of the rodent genes will facilitate identification of human genes involved in resistance that will have potentially important applications in cancer prevention and therapy," says Archer, also chair of the nutritional sciences department. There is a lot of work to be done before these findings can be applied to human cancer, but Archer says the results are promising. "Any advance in our understanding of cancer development - whether it's of genes that lead to cancer or of genes that make people resistant to cancer - is important and offers the potential to manipulate the genes for our benefit."
Archer's research is supported by the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Initiative.
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