LOS ANGELES 2 — LOS ANGELES -- Researchers have identified and cloned the gene for a protein that plays a key role in the cancer-causing process of many chemicals, including those in cigarette smoke -- a development that could lead to tests to identify people at highest risk to get cancer from smoking.
It may also lead to new ways to protect individuals who are exposed to chemical carcinogens in an industrial environment, thereby making the workplace safer.
Among the chemicals that the protein interacts with are dioxins, widely considered the world's most toxic chemicals. Dioxins, for example, are thought to have caused cancer among U.S. troops in Vietnam exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange.
The identification of the gene, reported in today's issue of Science by University of California, Los Angeles, pathologist Oliver Hankinson and his associates, "is a valuable contribution," said pharmacologist Donald Barnes of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "This is the first chapter of the story and we're only just beginning to learn about the cast of characters."
"This will give us a much better idea of what is actually going on in the nucleus of the cell," the key site of attack for cancer-causing chemicals, added pharmacologist Allan Okey of the University of Toronto.
The discovery also comes at a time when EPA is reconsidering the process by which it regulates the amount of dioxins in the environment. A variety of new research at UCLA and elsewhere has suggested that there is a certain "threshold" level of dioxins, below which humans may not be adversely affected.