Changes in DNA causes cancer. DNA in cells is usually coiled and packed more tightly than a commuter train at rush hour. Researchers have had to uncoil the molecule to find and study changes that lead to cancer.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital scientists have used a new method to study DNA when the molecule is coiled. By studying DNA in 3-D, researchers have discovered previously hidden changes that drive cancer.
The approach helped researchers identify a mechanism that drives about 10 percent of high-risk cases of neuroblastoma. This cancer of the sympathetic nervous system most often occurs in young children. The scientists showed how a rearranged chromosome allowed a cancer-promoting gene to “hijack” segments of DNA.
Those segments normally rev-up expression of other genes. In this case, the hijacking leads to increased expression of a cancer-promoting gene. The findings suggest a possible new treatment approach for neuroblastoma.
“Studying DNA in 3-D will help us identify, understand and ultimately address other changes that are driving tumor growth and spread,” said Jinghui Zhang, PhD, chair of the St. Jude Department of Computational Biology. The research was done in collaboration with scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Center and the Whitehead Institute of Biomedical Research.
The findings appear in the journal Cancer Discovery.