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Researchers Identify A Gene That Links Stem Cells, Aging and Cancer

Update Date: Jul 18, 2014 09:02 AM EDT

Researchers have "discovered one of the key genes that make up the maintenance mechanism for tissues," according to a new study. 

The gene adds another piece to the aging, stem cells and cancer puzzle, made up of three main elements that are known to be related but no one knows exactly how. 

The research focused on the Sox4 gene which is expressed during embryonic development. The gene contributes to the development of pancreas, the bones and the heart. Sox4 is also active in the adult organism but in a limited way. 

According to the study, when Sox4 malfunctions, it becomes an oncogene - a gene which in certain circumstances can transform a cell into a tumor cell. 

Researchers considered mice to study in details regarding the role of Sox4 in the adult organism. However, it was not an easy task because mice in which Sox4 had been eliminated died before birth. To overcome this, authors generated a line of mice that do express Sox4 but at lower quantities than normal. 

 "The mice with less Sox4 show signs of premature loss of tissue homeostasis (maintenance), shorter telomeres, and, as a consequence, accelerated aging and the appearance of pathologies associated with aging, as well as cancer resistance," researchers stated in the press release. 

"This would imply that the origin of cancer is associated to regeneration errors, and if there is less regeneration there is also less cancer. The negative side is that less renewal also means more aging. It is a complex balance, which we will only understand with more research," Maria Blasco, co-author of the  study said in the press release. 

The study has been published in the journal Cell Reports.

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