A new study in Cell Metabolism shows the cancer-preventing, fat-burning potential of the tumor suppressor gene PTEN, says the io9 blog's Alasdair Wilkins. The study, done by researchers at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center, showed that mice given an extra copy of PTEN developed a metabolic imbalance that kept the animals thinner and healthier than control mice, even though they ate more. "In both mice and humans, PTEN is one of the key genes responsible for controlling cell growth, and signaling cells when it's time stop dividing and undergo cell death," Wilkins says. "As cancer starts to spread, the PTEN gene is one of the first to be destroyed so that the cancerous cells can start their runaway growth, and thus the tumor forms." The mice with the extra PTEN not only remained svelte while eating a lot, but also remained cancer-free, he adds, suggesting that "having multiple genomic copies of the tumor suppressor allowed it to fend off any harmful mutations or attempted deactivation."
It may be several years before this discovery is translated into anything useful for humans, Wilkins says, but the researchers have already identified a compound that mimics the effect of the extra PTEN gene, so a drug is a possibility.