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Studying the RAS Gene for Oncology Treatment

An oncogene is a gene that can potentially cause cancer. RAS is a common class of oncogene and the focus of researchers worldwide, particularly at the National Cancer Institute. RAS holds a dubious distinction in the oncology world: since it was first linked to human cancer in 1982, there have been no oncology treatment based on it.1 Despite the breakthroughs in technology for in vivo and in vitro testing, there has been little therapeutic success in oncology.

Oncogenes can cause uninhibited cell growth and tumors.

Background RAS (short for “rat sarcoma”) research originated in mice studies where RNA with “tumor-producing sarcoma viruses that turned infected cells cancerous”2 were found. Years later, human, lung, and nerve cancer cells (H-, K-, and N-RAS, respectively) were found to have similar genes to the virally-infected mouse RAS. Given its importance in regulating cell processes and proliferation, RAS has become a leading target for researchers. Despite many approaches for a new oncology treatment, such as various inhibitors and different mouse models, it has been difficult to reliably inhibit RAS. A very in-depth look at past approaches for a novel oncology treatment can be found in Baine’s review of the subject.1

Finding a treatment Given the ever-growing database of knowledge about RAS and the refinement of mouse models in the past decades, the NCI has invested $10 million dollars to discover RAS therapies, including “five different sub-projects…focused on figuring out the structure of mutant KRAS, the most common form of RAS in cancer”.3 The new focus on community makes it a great candidate for new, online collaborative tools, such as Scientist’s research exchanges or CDD’s drug research Vault, where scientists can communicate with experts and share data easily with the aim of a new oncology treatment. Effective collaboration is more important than ever to connect 30 years of research to discover a solution. We hope that the NCI can apply technology, data, and community to finally develop the first RAS-based treatment.

  1. Baines AT, Xu D, Der CJ. Inhibition of Ras for cancer treatment: the search continues. Future Med Chem. Oct 2011