Mar 03, 2020 10:00 AM


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.

Media Contact

Ashlee Harrison
Public Relations – Huntsman Cancer Institute

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About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah is the official cancer center of Utah. The cancer campus includes a state-of-the-art cancer specialty hospital as well as two buildings dedicated to cancer research. HCI treats patients with all forms of cancer and is recognized among the best cancer hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report. As the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West, HCI serves the largest geographic region in the country, drawing patients from Utah, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at HCI than at any other cancer center in the world, including genes responsible for hereditary breast, ovarian, colon, head, and neck cancers, along with melanoma. HCI manages the Utah Population Database, the largest genetic database in the world, with information on more than 11 million people linked to genealogies, health records, and vital statistics. HCI was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.

Cancer touches all of us.

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