Sequencing sarcoma

By By Natalie Hale

By Natalie Hale

After 30 years at a standstill, U researchers have made progress against a rare and deadly form of sarcoma.

The U lab responsible for the breakthrough recreated the cancer in mice and located the point of origin for the mysterious cancer.

“Because of this model we can now do two things: study the cancer and understand it and develop a drug to interfere with it,” said Mario Capecchi, director of the research.

Synovial sarcoma is rare and appears in 5 to 10 percent of 10,000 cases of soft-tissue cancers. It primarily affects children and young adults and is more common among males, according to the National Cancer Institute’s Web site.

“Eighty percent of children die within five years of diagnosis,” Capecchi said. “In 30 years, that hasn’t changed. We need to understand the cancer and develop more effective therapies.”

Malay Haldar, a doctoral candidate in human genetics, was responsible for modeling the cancer in mice.

Haldar spent eight months isolating the cancer-inducing DNA sequence and inserting it into mouse embryos.

Now that he has successfully recreated the cancer in mice, Haldar is hopeful the lab can begin developing new therapies to treat the cancer.

“This model can be used to study the biology of the genes,” Haldar said. “Now we can see what changes we can make to reduce the cancer.”

Synovial sarcoma is typically found in the joints, particularly near knees. This cancer arises when two chromosomes break and switch locations (known as a chromosomal translocation).

Capecchi’s lab is responsible for locating the genetic sequence where the particular translocation for synovial sarcoma occurs.

Mice have 99.5 percent of the same genetic material as humans, making them excellent models for researchers who desire to understand human diseases, said Capecchi, who is responsible for developing gene targeting in mice.

While therapies for treating this particular form of cancer in humans is decades away, Capecchi estimated the progress made in the past few years has been significant in understanding it.

Findings by Capecchi’s lab are featured in the April issue of Cancer Cell.