As anyone familiar with the X-Men knows, mutants can be either very good or very bad - or somewhere in between. The same appears true within cancer cells, which may harbor hundreds of mutations that set them apart from other cells in the body; the scientific challenge has been to figure out which mutations are culprits and which are innocent bystanders. Now, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medicine have devised a novel approach to sorting them out: they generated random mutations in a gene associated with lymphoma, tested the proteins produced by the genes to see how they performed, and generated a catalog of mutants with cancer-causing potential.
"Our goal was to correlate various mutations with potential to promote lymphoma," says Joel Pomerantz, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine's Institute for Cell Engineering. For the study, to be reported in a January 2013 issue of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Pomerantz and his research team focused on the protein CARD11. CARD11 plays a key role in signaling the presence of infection, which leads infection-fighting white blood cells to grow and divide. Certain mutations can turn CARD11 permanently "on," causing out-of-control cell division that results in cancers called lymphomas, which strike about 75,000 Americans each year.