Summary of the Molecular Basis of Cancer

by Richard Mitchell, MD

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    00:00 Alright, to review where we've been with this series of 5 talks about the biology of cancer.

    00:07 So how a good cell goes bad? You have DNA damage because of environmental or other reasons and hopefully that repairs. But if it doesn't repair, that failure of DNA repair because either the mechanisms to repair are abnormal or we just have so much damage that we can't actually repair it, we have mutations in the genome of somatic cells. That mutation will lead to the activation of growth promoting oncogenes or the inactivation of tumor suppressor genes or alterations in genes that regulate apoptosis. We'll get unregulated cell proliferation and decreased cell death which will give us a clonal expansion.

    00:47 In the next series of talk, we are going to revisit these additional topics; angiogenesis, a escape from immunity, tumor progression, malignant neoplasm, all the things that will eventually get us to invasion and metastasis. So that's the next series. Just as big picture points in biology and when we think about cancer, cancer is fundamentally a genetic disease.

    01:12 It happens because of non-lethal genetic damage. If the genetic damage and the breaks and all those errors were lethal, the cells would kill themselves. So this means it's just the right amount of genetic mutation without having the capacity to be lethal. There are 6 general classes of genes that we need to think about that are involved when we're talking about malignancy. One are the oncogenes. So these are going to be the accelerator. If we have too much acceleration, then we're going to have too much growth. Loss of tumor suppressor genes. So we've taken our foot off the break, we don't have enough breaking so we can't inhibit the process. And remember those are things like p53 and RB. The DNA repair genes. So those are going to be very important in terms of preventing mutations that occur when we have genetic damage. We want to have to feel safe. If cells are so bad, we want them to kill themselves rather than to continue to grow and so in cancer loss of apoptotic genes such as overexpression of BCL2 or loss of BAX and BAK are going to lead to increased cellular proliferation, uncontrolled. The telomerase gene needs to be reactivated to prevent replicative senescence. And finally, micro RNAs depending on whether they are acting on proto-oncogenes or they're acting on tumor suppressor genes or whatever can have all the effects of the other 5 bullet points. Final big picture concepts.

    02:54 There is a clonal expansion of some damaged precursor cell. Many of the pathways that are shown above will be affected. It is a multistep process in most cases. There are exceptions where a single driver mutation is enough to drive malignancy, but that tends to be the exception rather than the rule. Within any given tumor, bullet point number 2, there is significant heterogeneity. It is not a uniform mass of cells and whether some of those cells have metastatic potential or some of those cells have inability to grow with less amount of growth factors or whether some of those cells have stem-like properties, it is a basically heterogenous population of cells. And then cancer stem cells are an important concept regardless of how they may be derived because they can initiate and sustain the tumor.

    03:51 And with that, we've covered a lot of oncology. If you got this, you understand cancer really really well.

    About the Lecture

    The lecture Summary of the Molecular Basis of Cancer by Richard Mitchell, MD is from the course Neoplasia.

    Included Quiz Questions

    1. Nonlethal genetic damage
    2. Lethal genetic damage
    3. Nonlethal protein damage
    4. Lethal protein damage
    5. Sublethal RNA damage
    1. Oncogenes
    2. Tumor suppressor genes
    3. DNA repair genes
    4. Apoptosis genes
    5. Reassortment genes

    Author of lecture Summary of the Molecular Basis of Cancer

     Richard Mitchell, MD

    Richard Mitchell, MD

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