In the beginning  pg. 6

Since this discovery, Beachy and colleagues have demonstrated the effectiveness of cyclopamine against several tumor types in animal models.

“So far, those tumors types that require Hh signaling for their growth shrink in animals treated with cyclopamine,” Cooper says.

Cyclopamine and related compounds are now being investigated as possible chemotherapeutic agents by pharmaceutical companies.

“This has become a spectacular molecule—not only is it interesting as a biological tool, but it may have therapeutic value in treating tumors,” says Cooper.

Whether or not the revelation that embryonic development and cancer share fundamental pathways results in new therapeutic treatments for cancer, the traditional “departmental” borders that defined research in years past have been broken down.

“Cancer biology and developmental biology have traditionally been two separate fields,” says Cooper, “but now they have intersected in a wonderful way.”

Pointing the Way to Cancer
Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center have found that attachment of cholesterol to Sonic hedgehog, a mammalian version of the Hedgehog protein, controls finger and toe development in mice.  The paws of a normal mouse embryo are shown in panels A and D.  Mice lacking cholesterol-modified Sonic hedgehog (panels B and E) have malformed digits, while those expressing half the amount of Sonic hedgehog without cholesterol (panels C and F) develop extra, ectopic digits.  In addition to directing development, the Sonic hedgehog pathway—named for the video game character—is also involved in a number of human conditions, including cancer.
Image courtesy of Chin Chiang, Ph.D., associate professor of Cell and Developmental Biology at Vanderbilt.  From Yina Li, et. al., PNAS USA, April 25, 2006 103(17):6548-53.  
© 2006 National Academy of Sciences, U.S.A.

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