U Of M’s Mapping Of Gene “Social Networks” Could Advance Cancer Treatments
For the first time ever, researchers from the University of Minnesota and University of Toronto have completely mapped a genetic interaction network, or “social network,” of a yeast cell.
The discovery helps to explain how genes in the human body coordinate with one another to bring about cellular life. University of Minnesota researchers believe the ability to map human cells could potentially allow specific drugs to destroy sick or mutated cells and significantly advance the treatment of cancer and other diseases.
“Technology to manipulate human genomes on a large scale exists now,” said Chad Myers, professor at the University of Minnesota’s department of computer science and engineering, in a blog post. “Our work in yeast provides a blueprint for how we can learn about the human genome through systematic manipulation in cell lines.”
Previous studies have found that yeast cells are made up of 6,000 genes, but only one in five of those genes are essential for a cell’s survival. With this understanding, Myers and the other researchers studied the genes in pairs and catalogued which gene pair would fill a space left behind by a gene pair that was deleted by one of the universities’ lab robots.
The 15-year study now provides researchers with the means to map genetic interactions in human cells.
“Without our many years of genetic network analysis of yeast, you wouldn’t have known the extent to which genetic interactions drive cellular life or how to begin mapping a global genetic network in human cells,” said University of Toronto professor Charles Boone in a blog post. “There’s no doubt it will work and generate a wealth of new information.”
In the case of a disease like cancer, normal human cells differ heavily from cancer cells, which have scrambled genomes and are littered with mutations. By mapping a patient’s specific cancerous cell structure, a drug could be administered to specifically destroy the highly vulnerable back-up genes in cancer and leave the healthy genes in tact.