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Theresa Miorin

Professor Malcolm Campbell


English 1103
February 22, 2016
Genetically Cancerous
Introduction/Overview
Cancer. A six letter word that can almost instantly cause people to become sympathetic
since almost everyone has become affected by this ravenous disease. Since January of 2014,
nearly 14.5 million Americans with a history of cancer were alive, yet there are still many deaths
resulted from cancer as research for a cure continues to grow. There are many outside causes to
cancer such as smoking and environmental factors, but recently people have begun to look into
the idea of cancer being hereditary. In this project, I will explore the genetics of cancer and how
knowing if it is hereditary or not can help determine if there are possible treatment routes to be
taken, including the possibility of gene therapy.
In 2016, it is expected that approximately 1.6 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed,
and almost 600,000 Americans will die of cancer. Being the second most common cause of
death, this disease accounts for nearly one out of every four deaths. Looking at statistical
analysis, there have been declines in deaths for particular cancers, such as lung cancer. This is
due to the decrease in smoking habits. The four most common cancer types, which are lung,
colorectal, breast, and prostate, are all seeing declining death rates. However, this does not mean
that cancer is still not an issue. It still affects most people either directly or indirectly, and it is

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constantly changing. To find a way to stop the disease, we must first learn what it is and where it
comes from (cancer.org).
A human body is made up of a multitude of cells, which are the basic units. These cells
grow and divide as more are needed, and when they are old or damaged, they will die and be
replaced by new cells. When cells have a genetic change, or mutation, that disrupts this process,
the cells will begin to grow uncontrollably due to the presence of telomerase, an enzyme that
allows for the regrowth of telomeres. The ends of telomeres are used every time a cell divides
and once there are no more telomeres, the cell dies. In cancer cells, telomerase makes these cells
practically immortal since it ultimately lets the cancer cells have an unlimited supply of
telomeres. When these cells grow, they for a mass called a tumor. If a tumor is cancerous, it can
grow and spread to other parts of the body (cancer.net).
The most common cause of cancer is acquired mutations that occur to damages on genes
in a cell during ones life. This can include exposure to radiation, viruses, and tobacco. The less
common form of mutation is a germline mutation, that is passed directly from a parent to a child.
These mutated genes can be found in every cell of the human body, which is how it is passed
through the reproductive cells. There are particular genes linked to cancer, one of which is the
p53 gene, commonly known as the tumor suppressor gene; it limits cell growth and repairs DNA.
Because cancer can be linked back to particular genes, including ones that are hereditary, those
who research cancer and genetics have begun discussing ways of gene therapy (cancer.net).
Gene therapy is a technique that utilizes genes to help treat or prevent disease. There are
different approaches to gene therapy which include replacing the mutilated gene with a healthy
copy, inactivating the mutilated gene, or introduction a new gene to fight the disease. This

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process seems promising to some, but it remains risky and there is not enough research to ensure
it is safe and effective. Currently, it is only used for diseases that have no other cures (Genetics
Home Reference).
Despite people wanting to find cures to a disease such as cancer, there is much
controversy over the idea of gene therapy. Current research is evaluating the safety of gene
therapy, but it will begin to test its effectiveness as well. There are extremely high health risks
including inflammation, toxicity, and even cancer, which is what the gene therapy is meant to
stop. There are many steps being taken to ensure the safety of the research, such as federal laws
and regulations under the National Institutes of Health and others that provide guidelines to
follow when conducting trials with gene therapy (Genetics Home Reference).
Not only are there risks behind the use of gene therapy for curing a disease, there are also
many people who contradict this idea over moral issues. Questions arise such as Who decides
what traits are normal and which constitute a disorder? Does the high cost of gene therapy
make it unavailable to all except the wealthy? Should gene therapy be used to enhance basic
human traits? Right now gene therapy research is mainly focused on targeting body cells such
as bone marrow or blood cells. These cells are not passed onto children, therefore, it will not
affect them; however, gene therapy could be used on egg and sperm cells that would allow the
altered or changed gene to be passed onto future generations. Because side effects are not yet
known, and the possibility of the therapy affecting the development of a fetus in different ways
and without the consent of the fetus to choose if they can have the treatment, the United States
government prevents funds from being used to this germline gene therapy (Genetics Home
Reference).

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Through this preliminary research on the genetics of cancer research and the possibilities
of various treatments, there are many controversies surrounding the topic. Not only are the
ethical issues surrounding the use of gene therapy for diseases when it concerns hereditary traits,
but also what constitutes a mutilated gene that needs to be fixed. There are also controversies
concerning the safety of such a therapy to be performed on humans. Much of this information I
had already been made aware of through general education in a high school AP Biology course,
but further research into websites such as the CDC, National Cancer Institute, cancer.net,
cancer.org, and the National Human Genome Research Institute, led to increased areas of study

into the complexities of the topic. I had originally started off with just a general interest in the
study of cancer, but after looking through the different websites containing information on
genetics and cures, the idea of gene therapy provided a lot of room for critical development in
the construction of a topic that would lead to vast amounts of research that is continually
changing and altering due to new advances in technology.
Initial Inquiry Question(s)
What are the biggest dangers in gene therapy and do they outweigh the possible benefits
to it? Does gene therapy provide a chance to find a cure for diseases such as cancer, and if so,
would the risk be worth it? How do other countries perceive the idea of gene therapy for cancer
research?
My Interest in this Topic
I am interested in this topic of gene therapy and cancer research because this is what I
wish to pursue as a career. Since my sophomore biology class I had become interested in the
study of genetics. This made me decide to take AP Biology my senior year of high school so that

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I would have the chance to learn more in depth on some of the topics. I have family friends who
have two sons out of three that are autistic, and while having a conversation with them one day
about hereditary diseases, I discovered that this was something I was passionate about.
I became more passionate about the research in cancer, however, when my aunt passed
away last year from lung cancer that had metastasized. Her passing had made me realize that not
only did I want to research diseases and how they are related to us genetically, but also how such
a deadly disease as cancer could be stopped. I had already learned a lot of information about
cancer due to the vast amount of time spent on it in my AP Biology class. It is a disease that
starts from a genetic mutation in DNA, and that once the mutation occurs, it is practically
irreversible. Since there has already been some research into gene therapy, I wish to know where
it would lead and how exactly the process of gene therapy is done. This would lead to a greater
understanding of the difficulty in finding a cure for cancer when it is a disease that is changing
constantly. I also wish to know how research is being conducted to ensure the safety of the
people involved as well as where this particular research can provide results to not only finding a
way to stop cancer, but other diseases as well.
Next Steps
To begin further research into the topic I will visit the National Public Radios website
where they have many links into gene therapy and how scientists are hopeful despite not many
therapies providing promise. It also provides different articles that discuss research already
done, such as one on breast cancer and how those with a certain gene might not need
chemotherapy. There are also health websites such as for the National Institute of Health and the
U.S. National Library of Medicine that have access to articles and different sources of research

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done on gene therapy in the past, currently, and where it could lead in the future. The American
Society of Gene and Cell Therapy also delves into the many aspects of this kind of research to
help fully understand what it is and how it can be used to benefit society and patients with
cancer.
In conjunction with looking at these various websites, I will use the resources provided
right here at the library by speaking to the reference librarians so that I can navigate the various
databases provided through campus in order to utilize other resources than what I just google.
By speaking to them, they might have more helpful and reliable sources than ones I would have
found myself so that the research I use for the topic proposal is valid and beneficial for the topic
proposal.