Gene of the Month - BRAF

08 November 2014

Interview with

Kat Arney

And finally it's time for our gene of the month, and this time it's BRAF (B-Raf). Although it may not have an amusing name, like many of the genes we cover, it's been very important for underpinning new approaches for treating certain types of melanoma skin cancer, as well as other cancers too. In 2002, scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, as part of an international team, figured out that a faulty version of BRAF was found in the majority of tumour samples from patients with melanoma.

But rather than knocking out the function of BRAF, which normally sends signals telling cells to divide only when they're needed, the faults made BRAF become overactive, driving cells to divide out of control and form a cancer. After just 10 years, a drug blocking overactive BRAF, called vemurafenib or Zelboraf, was licensed for use on the NHS for treating people whose skin cancer had the faulty gene.

But although many patients have experienced impressive results, unfortunately their cancers evolve resistance to the drug and come back with a vengeance. Researchers are now working hard to understand how this resistance develops, and how to deliver the right combination of drugs to stop the disease in its tracks.

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