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Editorial [Developmental Genes and Cancer]

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Our understanding of human cancers has been greatly enhanced by the study of developmental biology in model organisms. For example, the Nobel-prize winning genetic screens [1] that uncovered mutations impacting Drosophila developmental segmentation led to the discovery of many genes (such as Wingless/Wnt, Hedgehog, Patched, Armadillo/β-catenin) that were subsequently implicated in human cancers. As illustrated in the collection of articles published in this issue, studies of Drosophila development [2-6] continue to shape our understanding of human cancer. Furthermore, mouse models are enhancing the study of cancers in specific tissue types (i.e. breast, prostrate [7], and skin [8]) that are linked to genes of developmental importance. Work in these and other animal models combined with studies in human cancer cell lines are leading to the development of cancer therapies targeting genes of known developmental importance.

Given that many of the hallmarks of human cancer, such as cell growth, invasion, evasion of apoptosis, and formation of a blood supply to the tumor, involve cellular processes that are critical during development, it is perhaps not surprising that scientific discoveries in developmental biology or cancer biology help to advance the alternate discipline. In fact, Gilbert [9] argues that there are many reasons to view cancer as a disease of development. He explains that the fates of cells during development and the malignancy of a tumor are dependent upon the cellular environment. This cellular environment is largely impacted by cell signaling, a critical aspect of both animal development and tumor malignancy. The functions of a number of developmental signaling molecules, including Rb/E2F [2], Myc [3], Netrins [4], Semaphorins [5], Wnts [6], FGFs [7], Integrins and TGFβs [8] in the contexts of both development and cancer biology are reviewed in this issue.

Gilbert [9] points out that the study of stem cells and angiogenesis are excellent examples of research fields that encompass both developmental and cancer biology. The functions of Myc [3] and Wnt [6] in stem cell development are highlighted in this issue. Furthermore, the roles of Netrins [4], Semaphorins [5], and FGFs [7] in angiogenesis are examined. The process of invasive cell growth is another critical aspect of both developmental biology and metastastic cancer. The similarity between a developing neuron and a metastatic tumor cell, two cell types that undergo invasive migration, are discussed in this issue [4]. Invasive growth in both types of cells can be impacted by axon guidance molecules such as Netrin [4] and Semaphorin [5]. Given that very little is known about the genetic changes that result in metastastic cancer, analyzing the functions of axon guidance molecules and other developmental genes (see also FGFs [7] and Integrins [8] in this issue) in the regulation of invasive growth is critical. Such studies may provide clues regarding genetic changes that promote tumor cell metastasis, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2009-07-01

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  • Current Drug Targets aims to cover the latest and most outstanding developments on the medicinal chemistry and pharmacology of molecular drug targets e.g. disease specific proteins, receptors, enzymes, genes. Each issue of the journal will be devoted to a single timely topic, with series of in-depth reviews, written by leaders in the field, covering a range of current topics on drug targets. These issues will be organized and led by a guest editor who is a recognized expert in the overall topic. As the discovery, identification, characterisation and validation of novel human drug targets for drug discovery continues to grow; this journal will be essential reading for all pharmaceutical scientists involved in drug discovery and development.
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