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Uniquely Human Gene May Drive Numerous Cancers


Humans are more prone to develop carcinomas compared with our closest evolutionary cousins, the great apes. These cancers begin in the epithelial cells of the skin or the tissue that covers the surface of internal organs and glands, and they include prostate, breast, lung, and colorectal cancers. A new study published in FASEB BioAdvances reveals a human-specific connection between advanced carcinomas and a gene called SIGLEC12.

Additional studies related to this gene, which has several uniquely human features, and the protein it encodes (called Siglec-XII) could potentially lead to broad-based advances in cancer prognostics, diagnostics, and therapeutics.

“Siglecs are typically expressed in immune cells, and it was surprising to find Siglec-XII on epithelial surfaces. While a mutant form of Siglec-XII is expressed only in about 30% of normal humans, it was found to be present in a high proportion of advanced carcinomas. This could help explain why humans are more prone to aggressive carcinomas, which are rare in chimpanzees," said co-author Nissi Varki, MD, Professor of Pathology at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine.

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Funding for this research came, in part, from the National Institutes of Health (grants R01GM32373, 5U01CA086402, T32GM008666 and DK007202).

Disclosure: Professor Ajit Varki is a scientific advisor to Mablytics Inc., a biotech startup which is developing immunotherapeutics directed against this novel Siglec target in solid tumors. Mablytics has also funded a related research collaboration with UC San Diego led by Nissi Varki.

About the Journal

FASEB BioAdvances is an international open-access journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) published in partnership with John Wiley and Sons. Founded in 1912, FASEB is the nation’s largest federation of U.S. biomedical societies, representing more than 130,000 researchers worldwide and is dedicated to advancing health and welfare by promoting progress and education in biological and biomedical sciences.

About Wiley

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