The human genome contains approximately 20,000 protein coding genes which are responsible for the formation, development and functioning of the human body. A similar number of genes exists in the mouse genome. In this pool only some genes – called tumor suppressors – can initiate the production of proteins having anti-cancer properties. Polish-Australian team of researchers from the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw and Monash University Central Clinical School in Melbourne showed that one of the genes, known as GRHL1, displays anti-cancer effects which is protective against skin cancer of non-melanoma type.
Mice with inactivated Grhl1 gene were used in the study. When subjected to a standard method of induction of skin tumors with chemical substances, the Grhl1-deficient mice displayed a significantly increased incidence of skin cancer as compared to control mice in which the Grhl1 gene functioned normally. In addition, the mechanism of Grhl1 function, responsible for its anti-cancer properties was investigated.
The discovery of a new anti-oncogene may lead to the development of diagnostic tests allowing identification of people with an increased risk of skin cancer, and thus contribute to more effective prevention of this disease. Furthermore, the development of methods to pharmacologically stimulate the activity of Grhl1 may lead to the invention of new anticancer drugs.