Mutations in gene Notch1 in normal oesophagus cells is beneficial whereas unmutated Notch1 favours tumour expansion
As we age, our DNA acquires mutations. While the majority are harmless, some mutations can cause uncontrolled cell growth leading to cancer. By middle-age, the human oesophagus has developed into a patchwork of mutated cells. If those mutations do cause tumours, they can be hard to treat as symptoms appear once it has already started spreading. Researchers analysed the mutations in cells of the oesophagus in the over-50s. They discovered that most of them had mutations in a gene called NOTCH1. But this mutation was very rare in oesophageal cancers. To try and solve this mystery, the researchers removed Notch1 (pink) from mice (right) with oesophageal tumours (pictured, various colours) and tumour size was clearly reduced. Losing NOTCH1 appears to be a protective mutation against oesophageal cancer. If we can understand how this protection occurs, we could find new therapies that block NOTCH1 to treat these cancers.
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