MicroRNAs were ignored as meaningless genetic material for a long time because they are too small to make proteins that can do anything important. In the last 10 years, these tiny molecules once dismissed as "genetic junk," have catapulted to occupy a central position in biology. Through the pioneering work of many researchers, microRNAs have been found to control 60 percent of the protein-coding genes in our genome.
"The power of microRNAs come from the fact that just one microRNA can bind, capture and silence hundreds of genes and, therefore, influence entire networks of genes," said Gunaratne, who has been at the forefront of this research.
The TCGA study found that 96 percent of the more than 300 ovarian cancer tumors analyzed had mutated TP53 genes, which normally are tumor suppressors. Even though this particular cancer has few other genes that are mutated, the structural changes were frequent. In the absence of the watchful eye of p53, these structural changes set the stage for the formation of aggressive tumors.
"This landmark study is producing impressive insights into the biology of this type of cancer," said NIH director Dr. Francis Collins. "It will significantly empower the cancer research community to make additional discoveries that will help us treat women with this deadly disease. It also illustrates the power of what's to come from our investment in The Cancer Genome Atlas."
Gunaratne's team benefitted from the 2008 acquisition of a $1 million genome sequencer, a state-of-the-art device that made UH a major player in this pioneering research.
"I feel very lucky to have has access to the Illumi
|Contact: Laura Tolley|
University of Houston