Mar 03, 2020 10:00 AM

Author: Carley Lehauli


About one-third of lung cancer patients who have never smoked have a small portion of DNA missing in the gene called EGFR. This missing portion is a mutation that drives cancer and causes tumors. In a recent study in PLOS ONE, Lyska Emerson, MD, a Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) researcher, looked at the patterns of four non-mutated EGFR genes. She was in search of a “destabilizing DNA sequence.” This sequence could explain why that portion of the DNA—called the exon 19 deletion—goes missing in some people.

Emerson and her colleagues used third-generation technology that allows examination of longer stretches of DNA. They found a region of the EGFR gene that potentially interacts with the exon 19 deletion—the same deletion that causes the mutation driving cancer. 

“If our model is correct,” Emerson says, “then it is significant in understanding many other cancers that are driven by similar deletions in the DNA. More importantly, perhaps, it would give us a way to identify those more susceptible to cancer and hopefully intervene earlier.”

In the future, Emerson and her colleagues hope to expand the number of cancer and non-cancer samples. With the newer third-generation DNA sequencing technologies, they may be able to gain further understanding of the molecular mechanisms contributing to human diseases, including cancer.

This research is supported by the National Cancer Institute grant P30 CA042014 and Huntsman Cancer Foundation.

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About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah is the official cancer center of Utah and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West. The campus includes a state-of-the-art cancer specialty hospital and two buildings dedicated to cancer research. Huntsman Cancer Institute provides patient care, cancer screening, and education at community clinics and affiliate hospitals throughout the Mountain West. It is consistently recognized among the best cancer hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report. The region’s first proton therapy center opened in 2021 and a major hospital expansion is underway. Huntsman Cancer Institute is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment for staff, students, patients, and communities. Advancing cancer research discoveries and treatments to meet the needs of patients who live far away from a major medical center is a unique focus. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at Huntsman Cancer Institute than at any other cancer center, including genes responsible for breast, ovarian, colon, head and neck cancers, and melanoma. Huntsman Cancer Institute was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.

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