Genetic trash could be treasure
A UH professor has led research efforts to determine the effect of the genetic molecules, microRNAs, on ovarian cancer.
Preethi Gunaratne, assistant professor of biology and biochemistry, has found through her research that microRNAs, once considered to be genetic waste, have the ability to prevent ovarian cancer development.
“Our ultimate goal is to understand the role of microRNAs in regulating gene networks on a genome-wide scale that allow stem cells and normal tissue to assume tight control over cell proliferation and growth,” Gunaratne said. “And then establish a paradigm for incorporating microRNAs into diagnosis and treatment of complex diseases like cancer.”
Gunaratne said that ovarian cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to properly treat, with the survival rate dependant on how developed the cancer is when diagnosed.
“Through pioneering efforts of a number of scientists in the last decade we have come to understand that a single microRNA can potentially bind, capture and silence hundreds of genes,” Gunaratne said. “Therefore, microRNAs can be considered strong alternatives or complements to many of the small molecule inhibitors that are currently being developed to silence disease gene networks.”
It has been shown that microRNAs are responsible for 60 percent of the protein coding genes within the human body.
The genetic sequencing of the cancer was investigated by The Cancer Genome Atlas network, which discovered how normal ovarian cells change into chemotherapy-resistant malignant tumors. They concluded that ovarian cancer is constructed of multiple mutations in one gene, which causes the regular cells to develop into a cancerous form, according to a press release.
“The precise cause of ovarian cancer is unknown,” said Gunaratne. “Increased risk factors include a family history of ovarian cancer and age. Women who have had at least one pregnancy are at lower risk. Keeping in good health also establishes a strong immune system that is able to remove cancerous cells through immune surveillance.”
The study also reported that the cancer takes the lives of around 14,000 women each year in the United States.
“Children’s cancers and women’s cancers are typically underfunded,” Gunaratne said. “We have a strong commitment to rapidly translating the latest advances in cancer genomics to identify novel biomarkers for early detection and develop preclinical data for testing novel therapeutic strategies for cancers in women and children.”