A team of scientists has identified MNX1 as a new oncogene–a gene than can cause cancer–that is more active in African American prostate cancer than in European American prostate cancer. The finding suggests that genetic factors can contribute, at last in part, to the higher incidence of prostate cancer among African American men compared with men of other ethnic groups. The team includes scientists at Baylor College of Medicine, Third Military Medical University in China, the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, and Agilent Technologies India Pvt. Ltd. The study appeared Aug. 31 in Cancer Research.

“African Americans have about one-and-a-half times the incidence and twice the mortality associated with prostate cancer of European Americans, and the reasons for this are not clear,” said senior author Dr. Michael Ittmann, professor of pathology & immunology at Baylor and the Michael E. DeBakey Department of VA Medical Center.

Most scientists think that some of the health disparities among ethnic groups can be explained by differences in biology. Socio-economic factors, such as unequal access to healthcare services that make African American men less likely to receive regular physical examinations and screening for prostate cancer, may also be involved.

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“We determined the gene expression profiling of African American prostate cancers,” said Ittmann, “and compared it with that of normal prostate tissue. Then, in collaboration with Dr. Chad Creighton, associate professor of medicine at Baylor and member of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center Division of Biostatistics, we compared the gene expression profiling of African American prostate cancers with that of European American prostate cancers, which is available in published datasets.”

“We found 24 genes that were different between the African American and the European American prostate cancer datasets,” said Ittmann. “Some of the genes were less active in African American prostate cancer, but we concentrated on those that were more active as they could potentially be oncogenes. MNX1 was at the top of the list.”

MNX1 had been previously described as an oncogene linked to infantile acute myeloid leukemia, a rare cancer of the bone marrow and lymph nodes.

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