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Updated: 2018.9.27 05:17
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Mapping Gene Networks to Cure Cancer
[ Issue 159 Page 3 ] Wednesday, December 27, 2017, 22:07:10 Tae Soo Kim Head of News kimts96@kaist.ac.kr

Professor Kwang-Hyun Cho of the Department of Bio and Brain Engineering and his research team successfully identified the principles of the gene network behind colon tumorigenesis. The findings from the research conducted by Dr. Dongkwan Shin and PhD candidates Jonghoon Lee and Jeong-Ryeol Gong were published online on November 2 in the journal Nature Communications.

Tumorigenesis, also known as carcinogenesis, is the process in which normal cells transform into cancer cells. Mutations in the human genome are known to cause this process. In order to treat these diseases, researchers attempt to identify the genetic mutations that frequently arise among patients, and distinguish the crucial ones from that pool. The genes that are deemed to be the most important in the formation of a cancer are called the “driver genes”. Drugs are designed to treat cancer by targeting and inhibiting these genes.

However, because of gene interactions, the expected effects from these drugs are only seen in a small number of patients, and some of these patients develop drug resistance. The mutation of one gene can affect not only its own function, but also that of other genes. Currently existing drugs are ineffective as they do not address the network of genes.

In order to deal with these limitations, Professor Cho and his team constructed a mathematical model of the interactions and collective effects of genetic mutations found in colon cancer. The team accomplished this feat by utilizing comprehensive genomic data from cancer patients and The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) as a basis. TCGA is a cooperative effort that seeks to catalogue genetic mutations that give rise to different cancers.

With the mathematical model and computer simulations at hand, the team was also able to identify its first gene network principle: the critical transition phenomenon, which involves a transition in the state of matter. Although it was previously impossible to identify the transition due to the difficulty in following the sequence of mutations, the researchers were able to use their method to identify it for colon cancer tumorigenesis. These findings could lead to the development of drugs that can provide better treatment by targeting the genes identified, whether they be drivers or passengers.

Lee, Shin, Gong, and Professor Cho (from left to right)
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