In an effort to understand the causes and development of primary bone cancer, 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 with these cancers, 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 bone cancer patients.
How is Professor Latif investigating this area?
Professor Latif’s work focused on a particular family of genes known as the Ras family, and this research study allowed her to investigate these genes in a rare form of primary bone cancer known as chordoma. Chordomas are slow-growing tumours that arise in the spine and the skull, they account for just 1-4% of all primary bone cancer cases. Very few genetic studies have been carried out on the tumour type due to this rarity and the lack of patient samples researchers have available to them.
Professor Latif developed a cohort of donated patient samples, which she analysed to discover genes that are switched-off in these tumours compared to normal, healthy tissue and determine any affects this has on patient survival, the risk of relapse, the risk of metastasis or the treatment required for chordoma patients to be identified. This revealed further insight into the molecular pathways playing important roles in chordoma development and identify biomarkers that may have both diagnostic and prognostic purposes to improve patient outcomes.
This project was an extension to research previously funded by the Bone Cancer Research Trust to Professor Latif which identified genes of the Ras family to be switched-off in primary bone cancer. You can read more on the project here