It doesn’t often happen that army generals switch sides in the middle of a war, but when cancer’s attack is underway, it may even cause a gene that acts as the body’s master defender to change allegiance. As reported recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science have discovered that the betrayal of this gene can occur in more ways than previously appreciated.
All cells carry this gene, known as p53. This gene normally plays a central role in protecting the body against malignancy, orchestrating the cell’s defenses against cancer and often killing a potentially cancerous cell if these fail. In about half of cancer patients, the p53 gene within the cancerous cells contains alterations – mutations – that can result in the production of a p53 protein that not only fails to suppress cancer, but can even launch cancer-promoting activities.
But besides the cancerous cells, a malignant tumor contains a variety of non-cancerous cells and connective tissue elements, commonly referred to as the tumor microenvironment. In the initial stages of cancer development, the microenvironment is hostile to the tumor. Prof. Moshe Oren of the Molecular Cell Biology Department
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