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Last updated on April 17, 2014 at 17:30 EDT

Zebrafish Help Scientists Better Understand Cancer Regulating Cells

February 2, 2009

Researchers say they may have discovered the way a particular gene regulates the development of tumors.

The p53 gene, also known as tumor protein 53, acts as a tumor suppressor in guarding against cancer. In half of all cancers the gene is either damaged or inactive, which allows damaged cells to form tumors, scientists said.

Scientists in Singapore and the University of Dundee used zebrafish for their study, because they also carry the same p53 gene as humans.
They used a method that caused the zebrafish to turn green when the -53 gene was switched on, giving them a window to see how it was regulated.

They found that the p53 gene makes not only the well-established p53 protein, but also an alternative “control switch” variation of the p53 protein – known as an isoform, according to BBC Health.

Zebrafish without the isoform switch were unable to survive damage to their DNA caused by low doses of radiation.

This showed that the switch played a crucial role in enabling p53 to do its repair work, researchers said.

“The function of p53 is critical to the way that many cancer treatments kill cells since radiotherapy and chemotherapy act in part by triggering cell suicide in response to DNA damage,” Lead researcher Professor Sir David Lane told BBC Health.

“So understanding more about how this gene is controlled in cells is really important in finding ways to prevent cells from turning cancerous.”
Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said: “This is a really exciting study which improves our understanding of how the p53 gene works.

“Discovering how it is regulated will have incredibly important implications in the development of better drugs and ways to diagnose cancer.”

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Cancer Research UK