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The shuffling and subsequent joining together of two separate genes in the genome causes “gene fusions” that can be an important cancer causing mechanism.  Gene fusions had long been thought to be the causative (driving) agent exclusively of blood cancers (i.e., leukemias and lymphomas).  In 2005, the research team in Dr. Arul Chinnaiyan’s laboratory discovered a gene fusion for the first time in a solid tumor, “TMPRSS2-ETS” gene fusion was found in approximately 60-70% of the prostate cancer cases that were tested.  Since then, multiple common and rare gene fusions have been identified in a variety of tumors such as breast and lung and melanoma.

The overarching theme of the Chinnaiyan lab at the Michigan Center for Translational Pathology (MCTP) is to discover the genetic lesions that initiate cancer development, dissect the molecular mechanisms involved in cancer progression, and exploit those findings to impact clinical diagnosis and treatment of cancers. Researchers at MCTP have developed novel methodologies to probe cellular mechanisms on a global scale to gain a comprehensive understanding of cancer. Efforts are underway to interrogate a variety of cancers for recurrent gene fusions and other genetic and molecular lesions that drive cancer progression.  Gene fusions (as well as other genetic aberrations) in cancer can potentially serve as “biomarkers” (or signatures), allowing a precise molecular characterization of the cancer that can be developed as diagnostic and/or prognostic tests. In addition, characterizations of gene fusion sub-types and other cancer-driving genetic abnormalities can lead to the identity of “druggable” targets, often with readily available therapeutics. Identification of specific disease mutations was once a painstaking task, often requiring previous knowledge of the nature of the mutation and only one or few mutations could be interrogated at a time. However, because of recent exponential advances in DNA sequencing technologies in the last few years, as well as reduction in costs, it is now possible to scan the entire genome of cancer patients at once; and combining DNA sequence data with powerful computational biology and bioinformatics tools, we can nominate causative mutations in patient DNA in a timely manner.

We invite you to learn more about the exciting research underway at MCTP, You can read more about our latest research in the News section. You will also find information about available clinical services and studies and other important resources in the menu under "For Patients".

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