Inherited genetic mutations – the kind that are passed on from parent to child and affect all cells in the body throughout an individual’s life – are only rarely the cause of cancer. More commonly, individual cells and tissues in a person’s body develop mutations during their lifetime, which can contribute to cancer development. Genes that normally function to regulate cell growth may cease to function, allowing cells to proliferate unchecked and form a tumor. A laboratory at the Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center is investigating one such gene, known as either MDA-7 or IL-24, which is commonly inactive in a variety of cancers. Researchers aim to restore MDA-7/IL-24 function by “smuggling” healthy copies of the gene into tumor cells using viruses, or by delivering purified MDA-7/IL-24 protein, the product of the MDA-7/IL-24 gene, into the cancer tissue. In other cases, genes that promote cell proliferation mutate to become hyperactive. One example is the MDA-9/syntenin gene, which can promote cancer spreading from its original site to other part of the body. In these cases, drugs that block the function of the protein produced by the hyperactive gene can help curb cancer growth.