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Promise and Progress - Premature Aging Gene Could Have Implications for New Cancer Therapies

Faces of Childhood Cancer

Premature Aging Gene Could Have Implications for New Cancer Therapies

Date: June 1, 2004

Genes and Development, May 1, 2004

Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center researchers have identified a gene that, when altered, makes cells and animals age prematurely and die. The finding could be a target for new cancer therapies that force cancer cells into an early death. The gene, called PASG (proliferation associated SNF2-like gene), normally works by decreasing the activity of other genes, helping to add chemical groups to DNA in a process known as methylation, or by modifying protein structures called histones that help wind DNA into compact coils.

“In order to grow and stay alive, cells depend on the PASG gene to reduce the activity of other genes, but it’s a very complicated process—much like modifying the engine of an F-15 fighter jet while it’s flying,” says Robert Arceci, M.D., Ph.D., King Fahd Professor and director of pediatric oncology, and director of the study.

“If PASG’s methylation activity could be blocked in human cancer cells, we could potentially cause them to age faster and die earlier,” he says. Arceci and his team are now screening compounds for their ability to block PASG in tumor cells and mice. Human studies are not yet planned.

This research was funded by the Children's Cancer Foundation, Hodson Trust, and the National Institutes of Health.