Big Ideas

Andrew Lane, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Andrew Lane of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute loves his job, getting a chance to both help cancer patients and work in the lab. However, there is one thing he cannot stand: answering a tough or insightful question from a patient or student with “We Don’t Know.” He and his team, funded by a V Foundation V Scholar Grant, are working diligently to find more concrete answers to a question that has long befuddled cancer researchers: Why do men get cancer more often than women?

It may not be common knowledge, but in fact, almost every type of cancer affects men more than women. Lane has turned to genetics for an answer, and it may come from EXITS genes. “These genes, which we have called Escape from X Inactivation Tumor Suppressor (EXITS) genes, offer “protection” from cancer in females compared to males,” said Lane. “EXITS genes might be part of the reason that men get more cancer than women, and our results suggest that a man and a woman with the same type of cancer might have different diseases, because they might each have their own unique set of mutations.”

Basically, some X chromosome genes in females that are supposed to be silent can “escape from inactivation”, meaning more tumor suppressor genes are active, giving women an extra dose of cancer protection.

Now, with V Foundation support, we have opened an entirely new area of cancer research.

The focus on these EXITS genes could help researchers develop new ways to treat and prevent cancer. In terms of prevention, researchers could study these genes and find out what they do to keep cells from becoming cancerous. For treatments, Lane hopes that this will lead to more cancer clinical research that includes adequate numbers of men and women, which will help researchers understand if new treatments work better on one group than the other. This could lead to men and women with the same type of cancer receiving different therapies that are known to be more successful in their sex.

Like many V Scholars, Lane knows how important this type of funding is to a young researcher. “When this project started, I was a very junior faculty member, and we simply had an idea about how cancer in men and women might be different,” said Lane. “It would have been very difficult to obtain support from more traditional funding mechanisms. Now, with V Foundation support, we have opened an entirely new area of cancer research.”

Lane is encouraged about the future of cancer research, and why not? He says research that has spanned decades is now being translated into treatments that he sees helping patients every day. But we aren’t there yet, and we still have work to do to achieve victory over cancer. “Victory is more cures AND less toxicity in treatment,” said Lane. “Victory is giving families more quality time with their loves ones. We certainly have more work to do, but victory is happening!”

As researchers like Dr. Lane continue to dive deeper into the questions that sometimes befuddle us about cancer, we start to say “We don’t know” less and less. And that is a giant step in the right direction.