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Salk Researchers Discover How Defective Gene Leads To Cancer

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Aired 9/7/11

Salk Institute researchers said they may have discovered a reason why women with a defective gene are prone to breast and ovarian cancer. The discovery is published in the current edition of the journal Nature.

Defective BRCA1 causes aberrant expression of non-coding satellite RNA that leads to genomic instability, thereby promoting cancer development. The image shows that over-production of satellite RNA leads to abnormal number of centrosomes in a normal human epithelial cell.

Centrosomes are pictured in red, tublin in green and chromosomes in blue. The "mirrored" image in the Sputnik satellite is a confocal microscopic image.

Center: a mathematical reconstruction of the confocal image to resolve the tubulin fibers and the individual chromosomes.

Above: Defective BRCA1 causes aberrant expression of non-coding satellite RNA that leads to genomic instability, thereby promoting cancer development. The image shows that over-production of satellite RNA leads to abnormal number of centrosomes in a normal human epithelial cell. Centrosomes are pictured in red, tublin in green and chromosomes in blue. The "mirrored" image in the Sputnik satellite is a confocal microscopic image. Center: a mathematical reconstruction of the confocal image to resolve the tubulin fibers and the individual chromosomes.

— Researchers at the Salk Institute said they've discovered how the mutation of a particular gene leads to breast and ovarian cancer. The finding may provide a new pathway for cancer detection.

Scientists know that a defective copy of the BRCA 1 gene can lead to breast and ovarian cancer.

Salk researchers said it turns out defective BRCA 1 makes chromosomes break and re-associate inappropriately. That condition that allows cancer to develop.

On KPBS' Midday Edition, Salk cancer biologist Gerald Pao explained the situation.

"If a woman has the mutation of BRCA 1, you know that at a certain point in their life they're predisposed to breast cancer," Dr. Pao said. "But when it's gonna' happen is not really easy to figure out."

Pao said he hopes his findings lead to a method of discovering cancer much earlier than is currently possible.

Pao's research is published in the current edition of Nature.

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