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Genetic discovery seen aiding diagnoses

Publish Date: 06/27/2003
Story Type: Economy;
Byline: Myra Lu

        Scientists at Taipei Veterans General Hospital identified a novel gene recently that could affect how certain diseases are treated. The research team found a gene tucked away inside human chromosome 1 that is responsible for turning normal liver cells into malignant ones.

        The gene, referred to as ARCAP, was discovered by Principle Investigator Chang Tai-jay of the hospital's genome research laboratory. Collaborating with TargetGen Biotechnology Co., Chang has completed gene sequencing and a functional analysis. Now, using a molecular biology approach, doctors are able to diagnose from a few drops of blood whether a patient has abnormal liver cells in about two days.

        According to Chang, every human being's first chromosome contains the inactive ARCAP gene that can eventually be switched on due to a number of factors such as unhealthy life style. The protein encoded by ARCAP, he noted, binds to the androgen receptor and can increase the proliferation of hepatoma cell lines.

        Chang explained that the ARCAP can be a "potentially useful nonintrusive biomarker" in diagnosing cases of liver cancer.

        "The discovery of this gene can lead to many areas of research," Chang stressed. "For basic scientific studies, we will be able to learn more about how this particular gene functions in the entire cell." For instance, their findings so far may provide scientists with clues to explain why males have a statistically higher chance of developing liver cancer than females.

        As for practical applications of the discovery, Chang pointed out that a range of diagnostic kits and new treatments can be developed. "Establishing testing methods certainly takes less time than other applications," the U.S.-trained scientist explained.

        Clinical trials have been conducted at the veterans hospital with a high degree of accuracy. The test can also be used to determine whether an operation to remove the tumor is successful. The whole trial process, however, will not be completed by the end of the year.

        Cancer has long been the leading cause of death in Taiwan. Last year, liver cancer ranked first among all types of cancer that resulted in patient death. Doctors say since liver problems rarely cause pain, people often do not realize that their livers are seriously damaged until it is too late. A testing method that alerts people to abnormal condition of the livers in the initial stages therefore becomes extremely important.

        The team of academics and industrialists has already been granted patents in the United States, European Union, Japan and China. TargetGen Biotechnology said ARCAP is so far the only cancer-related genetic marker discovered by researchers in Taiwan to be recognized internationally. The team hopes to develop therapeutic applications in the long run.


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