Scientists find key to treating bowel cancer

A scientist scans genes in a cancer

Swiss scientists have found a gene that could play a key role in determining patients' chances of surviving bowel cancer.

This content was published on September 6, 2002 - 18:39

It's hoped the discovery will enable doctors to tailor treatments to individual patients.

The research team from the University Hospital of Basel said patients testing positive for the Smad4 gene were three times more likely to benefit from chemotherapy.

Lead researcher Jean-Louis Boulay told swissinfo that colon cancer patients who did not have the gene failed to respond to chemotherapy because their tumours had developed resistance.

New approach

"It's the beginning of a new way of directing therapies," Boulay told swissinfo.

"Instead of giving a treatment, which can be... very painful for the patient, we can already predict that this [chemotherapy] treatment may not be very efficient. Then we can select immediately a better treatment, a more appropriate treatment."

Healthy bowel tissue usually contains two copies of the Smad4 gene, which scientists believe helps cancer cells self-destruct.

But in their analysis of samples from 202 patients, the researchers found that in two thirds of cases at least one copy of the gene was missing.

"If you want to kill a cell, the cell needs some genetic programme to induce its killing, and if you lose this genetic programme you can no longer kill the cells," Boulay said.

Other cancers

Boulay said the research could be extended to other types of cancer and the search for additional genes, which could be significant in treating tumours.

"We are trying to identify genes which are involved in the development of brain tumours," he told swissinfo.


Key facts

Patients testing positive for Smad gene three times more likely to benefit from chemotherapy.
Two thirds of 202 patients had one copy of the gene missing.
The research could be extended to other types of cancer.

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