July 13, 2009

Canine genes aid human cancer discovery

U.S. scientists say they've discovered a gene believed to be involved in meningiomas tumors might not be as major a factor as previously believed.

North Carolina State University researchers compared human and canine genomes and discovered the gene commonly thought to cause tumors that affect the meninges, or thin covering of the human brain, might not be as important as thought for tumor formation.

Humans suffering from meningioma frequently lose one copy of nearly the entire length of human chromosome 22, which consists of nearly 50 million base pairs of DNA that code for more than 500 genes.

With so much genetic material to consider, one can see why figuring out which genes play a key role in meningiomas is extremely difficult, Professor Matthew Breen, who led the research, said. "By looking at tumors seen in both humans and dogs we have a simple way to narrow the search: we compare the affected areas of a human chromosome with related areas on dog chromosomes.

This works because dogs and humans are genetically similar and both get the same kinds of cancers, he added. While we share much of our genetic material, the DNA of a dog is organized differently to our own and this makes it possible to isolate smaller 'shared' regions of genetic data rather than looking at an entire chromosome.

The research appeared in the Journal of Neurooncology.