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Even DNA that doesn't encode genes can drive cancer

April 4, 2018

Most of the human genome -- 98 percent -- is made up of DNA but doesn't actually encode genes, the recipes cells use to build proteins. The vast majority of genetic mutations associated with cancer occur in these non-coding regions of the genome, yet it's unclear how they might influence tumor development or growth. Now researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Center have identified nearly 200 mutations in non-coding DNA that play a functional role in cancer. Each of the mutations could represent a new target in the search for cancer drugs.

 

"Most cancer-related mutations occur in regions of the genome outside of genes, but there are so incredibly many of them that it's hard to know which are actually relevant and which are merely noise," said senior author Trey Ideker, PhD, professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine and Moores Cancer Center. "Here for the first time we found about 200 mutations in non-coding DNA that are functional in cancer -- and that's about 199 more than we knew before."

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