In an effort to understand the causes and development of primary bone cancer in children and young adults, Professor Farida Latif has focused her research on understanding what genes cause these cancers.
Previous research into the genetics of bone cancer has discovered that certain genes are temporarily switched-off in individuals, and so Professor Latif and her team at The University of Birmingham aim to find these switched-off genes in order to learn more about the effects this has.
Identifying these genes and understanding how they work will give us clues as to what causes these cancers and help in developing biological markers that can be used for diagnostic and prognostic purposes. The switching-off of certain genes occurs by a process that scientists call ‘epigenetic inactivation’. One of the unique features of epigenetic inactivation is that new drugs are available that can switch-on genes that have been switched off by this mechanism.
The use of these new drugs to reverse the effects of epigenetic inactivation is called epigenetic therapy. In clinical trials, some of these new drugs have shown promising results and so this research into genes that cause bone cancers will hopefully improve the early diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of children and young adults with bone cancer.
What were the results of this research study?
Professor Latif’s work focused on a particular family of genes known as the Ras family, and established their behaviour across a range of Ewing sarcoma tumours. This research found a couple of genes of the Ras family to be switched-off in Ewing sarcoma tumours, and for this to be associated with a worse overall survival for patients; particularly those patients of a younger age. Promising results show that these Ras genes can become switched-on when treated with newly available drugs, which highlight that this family of genes has a prognostic impact on Ewing sarcoma patients and warrants further scientific research in this area.
Professor Latif continued her work in this area and later received further funding to investigate Ras genes in a rare form of primary bone cancer known as chordoma. You can read more about this project here.