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Gene targeting may help researchers fight cancer

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Posted at 10:05 PM, Mar 02, 2014
and last updated 2014-03-03 00:05:27-05

SALT LAKE CITY --  The University of Utah hosted a lecture series called An Evening With the Experts, and genetic targeting was the topic at a recent lecture.

Nobel Prize Winner Doctor Mario Capecchi talked about the importance of gene targeting and the ways researching it can help find causes and treatments for cancer.

Capecchi is a world-renowned geneticist, and he does his work in the Salt Lake Valley. He spoke about his work.

"Gene targeting is a method of changing genes,” he said. “We have roughly 25,000 genes, and we can change any gene in any way you can conceive of, and we mostly do it all in mice."

Capecchi won a Nobel Prize in 2007 for his discovery of a method for turning off a specific gene in mice. The process allows researchers to better understand the functions of various genes.

"We look at the consequences,” he said. “For example, if a little finger disappears, we know we're in the program to make a little finger."

And some of that work could lead to a better understanding of cancer.

"Cancer is a terrific example,” Capecchi said. “Right now, many cancers we don't know anything about and can't treat very well. A few we can. But in the very near future, we'll be able to manage many cancers much more effectively, and therefore make that less of a threat... I think the only way to do it is to understand the cancer and then develop rational therapies."

The research requires funds to advance, which is part of the reason for the lecture series. The goal was to raise public knowledge and excitement about the research in the hope that people will get involved.

"They can write their senators and representatives,” Capecchi said of those who attended the event. “For example, last year, sequestration was devastating to research nationwide, new grants just weren't granted almost. It really stopped the research process, and that's going to have long-term effects."