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connections between embryonic development and cancer
Why does a human look like a human? For example, why is your nose in the center of your face and your elbow in the middle of your arm? Furthermore, how does a human develop from a fertilized egg to a complex organism composed of many different organs?
The HOX family of proteins has critical roles in all of these developmental paths. HOX proteins perform their duties by activating or inactivating genes at specific times and body locations during the development of a human from an embryo to adulthood. HOX proteins remain in action throughout a person's lifetime, maintaining the body's internal and external form. Abnormal levels of these proteins are often present in many cancers, ranging from breast cancer to leukemia. Despite the well-established importance of the HOX family, the “how” of their role remains relatively mysterious. HOX proteins turn genes on and off by binding to DNA.
The Umland Lab is investigating how specific HOX proteins bind to specific regulatory DNA sequences to control specific gene activity. We are presently researching the HOX protein responsible for controlling blood pressure and kidney development. We are also comparing this structure to those that do not regulate gene activity to reveal the rules that the HOX family uses to dictate orderly gene activity. If the list of genes in the human genome is thought of as a parts list, then gene activity regulation can be thought of as the assembly instructions.
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