Scientists have discovered that a particular gene may be able to play a role in suppressing cancer. The gene, called the glucocorticoid receptor (GR), can be found in almost every cell in the body, and has previously been linked to cell development, immune response and metabolism.
Researchers at the University of Manchester found that in cells lacking GR, cell division was disrupted and errors in chromosomes appeared – occurrences which can contribute to the development of cancer. To further investigate the effects of a lack of GR, they reduced GR expression in mice, and observed an increase in tumours as they aged. The tumours were found to have even less GR than the surrounding normal tissue.
“Cancer is caused by cell division going wrong, but no one has previously looked at the role GR has to play in this process,” says research leader Professor David Ray, from the University’s Institute of Human Development. “It’s now clear that it is vital.”
Analysis of several common human cancers revealed that reduced GR expression is a common feature in certain cancer cell types. The findings imply that GR could possibly act as a tumour suppressor, and the research team hope that the discovery of the relationship between GR and cancer progression will be a step towards more effective treatments for the disease.
Lead author Laura Matthews concludes: “We do need to add more research to these findings, but this new mechanism adds a lot more to our knowledge of how cancers form, and with that knowledge we’re much better equipped to develop new treatments which could eventually be used in humans.”