Several scientists, including one at Simon Fraser University, have made a discovery that strongly links a little understood molecule, which is similar to DNA, to cancer and cancer survival.
EMBO Reports, a life sciences journal published by the European Molecular Biology Organization, has just published online the scientists' findings about small non-coding RNAs.
While RNA is known to be key to our cells' successful creation of proteins, the role of small non-coding RNAs, a newly discovered cousin of the former, has eluded scientific understanding for the most part. Until now, it was only surmised that most of these molecules had nothing to do with protein production.
However, scientists at SFU, the University of British Columbia and the B.C. Cancer Agency have discovered that many non-coding RNAs are perturbed in cancerous human cells, including breast and lung, in a specific way. The disturbance, which manifests itself as shorter than normal molecular messaging, also occurs at a specific spot on genes.
"These two identifiable characteristics give cancer-causing non-coding RNAs a chemical signature that makes it easy for scientists to identify them in the early stages of many different types of cancer," says Steven Jones.
The SFU molecular biology and biochemistry professor is this study's senior author, and the associate director and head of bioinformatics at the B.C. Cancer Agency's Genome Sciences Centre.