Glowing mice to speed up cancer research

Glowing mice to speed up cancer research

Summary: Researchers in the U.S. and in China are using new genetic approaches to speed up cancer research and develop gene therapy. They are using transposons, or jumping genes, which were discovered 50 years ago, to insert genes from fish and insects into mice and humans.

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TOPICS: Health
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Researchers in the U.S. and in China are using new genetic approaches to speed up cancer research and develop gene therapy. They are using transposons, or jumping genes, which were discovered 50 years ago, to insert genes from fish and insects into mice and humans. According to Forbes, they are using a moth transposon, dubbed PiggyBac, which can efficiently transpose in mice and human cells, to create glowing mice. These new techniques could reduce "the price of creating a new gene modification in a mouse from the $100,000 some pharmaceutical firms pay to a mere $500."

Here is the introduction of the Forbes article.

A bunch of eerily radiant red rodents may be a harbinger of a technology that could speed cancer research and even allow scientists to cure sickness by directly editing the DNA code of people with genetic illnesses.
The mice were created by Tian Xu, a Howard Hughes medical investigator at Yale, and his colleagues at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. To make the mice glow red, they inserted a gene taken from coral and inserted it into the mouse genome. Scientists have done such experiments thousands of times, with a Crayola box of colors and using glowing genes taken from jellyfish and fireflies.

The image shows transgenic mice that carry the piggyBac transposon that has caused their cells to express red fluorescent protein. (Credit: Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), Yale University).

Transgenic mice that carry the piggyBac transposon

For more information in plain English about this new technique, you can visit Tian Xu's Lab home page or read an August 2005 news release from HHMI, PiggyBac Paves Way for Better Understanding of Human Genes.

But if you are really interested in this new genetic approach, the latest research work has been published in Cell under the name "Efficient Transposition of the piggyBac (PB) Transposon in Mammalian Cells and Mice" (Volume 122, Pages 473-483, August 12, 2005). It was even the cover story. Here are two links to the abstract and to the full paper (PDF format, 11 pages, 526 KB).

Let's return to Forbes to know what to expect from this new genetic technique.

One of the most immediate benefits could be in cancer research. The genes can be modified to jump willy-nilly around cells. By putting them into a batch of human or mouse cells, and watching to see which ones become cancerous, scientists might be able to more quickly identify which genes or combinations of genes lead to cancer.

This might lead to new drugs against cancer or to gene therapy in several years.

Sources: Matthew Herper, Forbes.com, September 12, 2005; and various web sites

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Topic: Health

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