The processes of differentiation and tumorigenesis have been long thought to be connected. The recent identification of Patched, a gene essential for Drosophila embryonic development, as a tumor suppressor has focused attention on the concept that tumorigenesis involves abnormalities of development. In fact, a large number of genes in the signalling pathway of the Patched gene are either tumor suppressors or oncogenes. This supports the concept that growth control is a critical requirement of differentiation, and that aberrant cellular development can contribute to malignancy. Whereas the identification of genes that result in dominantly inherited cancer syndromes has played a vital role in understanding cancer, the vast majority of “sporadic” cancers have properties of a complex genetic disease. Approaches to identify common alleles in cancer-associated genes promise to increase our understanding of the disease and aid the rational design of preventative and therapeutic strategies.
Presented at the 89th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, March 31, 1998, New Orleans, LA.