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Agroup of researchers have demonstrated that a new method of targeting mutated cells could create a novel approach to personalized cancer treatment. The team, from the University of Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic, and the University of Toronto, discovered susceptible genes in the cancer cells using synthetic lethal interactions, which are pairs of genes in which a mutation in either one does not cause damage to the cell but mutations in both can cause it to die.[1]

Lead researcher Chad Myers, PhD, associate professor in the department of computer science and engineering at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, says that these drugs could be used to target the synthetic lethal interaction partners of cancer-associated genetic mutations. They would be particularly targeted treatments because they would kill cancer cells but spare otherwise identical cells that do not have the cancer-related genetic alteration.

Dr. Myers and his colleagues researched yeast genes to find synthetic lethality and then found genes in humans that were similar in structure and evolutionary origin to the yeast genes. He worked with Dennis Wigle, MD, PhD, a thoracic surgical oncologist at the Mayo Clinic, to test the interactions in human cells.

The investigators' expertise with yeast interactions enabled them to narrow down a large list of interactions to test, based on sequence similarity between the genes and public databases of genes commonly mutated in cancer.

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  • 1
    Deshpande R, Asiedu M, Klebig M, et al. A comparative genomic approach for identifying synthetic lethal interactions in human cancer. Cancer Res. 2013;73:6128-6136.