(HealthDay News) -- Cancer drugs may be able to switch on a gene that tumor cells have switched off, potentially offering a new target for treatment, scientists say.
The findings on the gene, called Brahma (BRM), are published online in the journal Oncogene.
Genetic mutations are one cause of cancer. But the disease can also develop when genes that control cell growth are turned off, allowing cells to multiply out of control. Currently, these deactivated genes can be used to identify or monitor cancer, but there are no treatments that actually target these genes, according to background information in the study.
A team at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, Ann Arbor, found that BRM was switched off -- but not missing -- in about 15 percent of tumor samples they studied, including cells from lung, esophageal, ovarian, bladder, colon and breast cancers.
The team was able to use existing cancer drugs to switch BRM back on, but they said that new drugs would have to be developed to provide more effective reactivation of the gene in cancer cells.
"This is a targetable target. We can detect it, but we need to find a better way to turn it back on," lead author Dr. David Reisman, assistant professor of internal medicine at the U-M Medical School, said in a prepared statement. "No drugs are designed to deal with a gene that's turned off. But it's a straightforward extension of current therapies that target genes that are turned on," he added.
The American Cancer Society has more about cancer.