Spanish scientists identify gene linked to half the cases of colon cancer

A group of Spanish and American scientists have made a significant advance in the fight against cancer of the colon which is the most common form of cancer in Spain with around 26,000 new cases diagnosed every year. The research team led by the oncologists José Baselga and Josep Tabernero, based at the Hospital Vall D’Hebron in Barcelona, together with the institute of oncology Dana-Farber and the University of Boston have discovered a gene that is associated with around 50% of colon cancers.

The discovery is a crucial step towards finding a new preventative treatment for colon cancer for people at high risk of developing this type of cancer due to inherited genes or a predisposition to develop polyps in their intestines.

It also opens up new possibilities in being able to successfully treat this type of cancer once it has already taken hold. The details of this promising research have been published today in the digital version of the scientific journal ‘Nature’.

The new gene is called CDK8. The gene acts as a trigger which leads to the proliferation of cancerous cells in the colon which means that the tumour grows. According to the findings of this latest research it has been discovered that the gene CDK8 transforms healthy cells in the colon into malign cells and that it remains overactive in half of colon cancer patients. Scientists have found that the gene CDK8 acts as a trigger and that once it has been disabled or ‘turned off’ then this stops the spread of the cancerous cells which is why this discovery is very significant in the fight against colon cancer.

In the laboratory scientists have been able to turn this ‘switch’ off in rats with human tumours but admit that there is still a long way to go before treatment based on these latest findings can be developed for use in humans.

The research team based at Vall d’Hebron is planning to carry out further research to find out whether this gene is related to other common forms of cancer such as breast cancer or lung cancer. However William Hahn a researcher at the Dana Farber Institute and the principal author of this latest research said that research into finding new therapies for treating colon and other forms of cancer is at a very early stage.

Nevertheless the discovery of CDK8 and other similar genes represents a significant advance as it opens up new ways of interrupting the process of the spread of tumours.