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Med School Cancer Discovery Seen as Important First Step

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Recent findings by a team of Harvard Medical School scientists linking the genetics of the immune system to cancer growth are formidable contribution to the field of molecular genetics, but do not necessarily presage a cure for cancer, medical experts said yesterday.

The Boston Globe this Tuesday quoted Dr. Philip Leader, chairman of the Genetics Department at Harvard Medical School, as saying that "suddenly and surprisingly, we have gained some measure of might into how a normal cell can be transformed" into a cancer cell.

Leder, who was speaking at a session of Harvard Medical School's Bicentennial Scientific Symposium, refused to comment further on his findings until the results are published in December.

Leder's research--performed at the Medical School in collaboration with scientist at the National Institute of Health--originally sought to discover on a genetic level how the body's immunological system produces an infinite safety of disease fighting antibodies of immunoglobulin molecules, the Globe story said.

Leder discovered that many diverse antibodies are produced when a limited number of genes shift from one part of a chromosome to another.

But he also discovered that in a type of cancer called Burkitt's lymphomas, a gene that is apparently associated with annual cancers may be inserted near the spot where authorities are actively produced. The tumor generated may be submitted to a pattern of abnormal growth because of its proximity to the immunoglobulin gene..

"We've known for awhile that major chromosome rearrangements occur in cancer cells," said Dr. Richard A. Flavell, head of the research department at Biogen, a Cambridge-based genetic engineering firm, said yesterday. "But now we know that thought near management can emanate from the some places that certain antibody genes are made," he added.

While many scientists were reluctant to comment on Leder's unpublished findings, expressed optimism, but were quick to place the discoveries in perspective.

"Moiecular proof for translocation is an important find," said one professor of genetics at the Medical School who asked not to be identified. "But it's only the beginning of our understanding an extremely compiles mechanism."

"People lend to overreact to these things but it'll be a while before announce starts talking about a cure," he said.

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