Friday, October 1, 2010

RUNX3 gene discovery

Professor Yoshiaki Ito discovers that a malfunction in the RUNX3 gene can lead to the development of gastric and colon cancers.

THE GENE DETECTIVE. Singapore offered Professor Yoshiaki Ito a chance to continue his gene research after he reached retirement age in Japan in 2002.

Prof Ito, then 63, decided to move to the Republic of Singapore. Before the relocation, he was already famed for being one of the discoverers of the RUNX3 "family" of genes in 1993 at Kyoto University.

His team found out that if these genes malfunction, they often cause cancer. What cause malfunction in the first place in those genes?

Professor Ito took his research a step further when he joined the Cancer Science Institute of Singapore, and Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology.

Building on his earlier findings, he identified the RUNX3 gene as being key in the development in gastric and colon cancers. Understanding this gene could lead to removal of pre-cancerous tissue before it develops further.

For the landmark discovery and his work on gene research, he was awarded the Singapore President's Science Award. The Singapore-President's Science and Technology Awards represent the highest honours conferred on those individuals who have made outstanding contributions.

"We have to continue to study how the gene works. It prevents normal cells from becoming cancer, " said Professor Ito, now 71. " A malfunction in this gene causes cancer and that usually occurs at a very early stage in the development of cancer ... If we can find out when this malfunction occurs, we could remove that pre-cancer tissue before it becomes cancer." Did Dr Balaji'RUNX3 gene malfunctioned?

Professor Ito, who was credited for drawing in researchers from around the world to Singapore, said that Singapore has the edge over Japan when it comes to attracting top-class scientists due to the use of English.

His work in the Oncology Research Institute in the National University of Singapore, and the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine helped lay a solid foundation for the establishment of Cancer Science Institute of Singapore.

Professor Ito also played an important role as one of the programme leaders in the Singapore Gastric Cancer Consortium, which was awarded the Translational and Clinical Research Flagship Programme.

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