Study examines effects of mutations in KRAS, which could enable earlier cancer detection

By The Science Advisory Board staff writers

July 20, 2022 -- University of California, Santa Cruz (UC Santa Cruz) researchers have discovered a key genetic mutation that occurs early on in cancer alters RNA “dark matter” and causes the release of previously unknown biomarkers, which could enable cancer detection earlier.

In a study published July 19 in the journal Cell Reports, researchers examined the effects of mutations in the KRAS gene, which is among the most frequently mutated genes across all cancers and is believed to be an initial "driver" mutation that leads to cancer formation.

Using cell culture models, researchers introduced mutant KRAS into noncancerous lung cells, pushing them into a cancerous state. The team performed RNA sequencing through several different techniques and conducted computational analysis to determine which RNA was more prevalent in cells expressing mutant KRAS versus control cells.

Additional epigenomic profiling experiments, looking at how genes are turned on or off without changes to the DNA sequence itself, were performed as well as extracellular vesicle isolations, identifying which RNAs are packaged into extracellular vesicles and preferentially secreted from cancerous cells affected by mutant KRAS.

"Now that we know the RNA signatures of this very early event in cancer, this will help us develop new methods for cancer early detection, which will hopefully help save a lot of people's lives in the future," said Daniel Kim, PhD, assistant professor of biomolecular engineering at UC Santa Cruz, in a statement.

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