Breakthrough could lead to new breast cancer treatments

12 March 2018
The Times

Scientists have uncovered 110 genes linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, in the most comprehensive study yet looking at the genetics of the disease.

Their findings could unlock fresh treatment, with 32 of the new genes linked to how long women survived and potentially offering targets for new drugs.

Baroness Morgan of Drefelin, the Chief Executive at Breast Cancer Now, which funded the study, said: “These are really important findings. We urgently need to unravel how the genetic changes in the building blocks of our DNA influence a woman’s risk of breast cancer, and this study adds another vital piece to this jigsaw.

“More women are now being diagnosed with breast cancer than ever before, and these crucial findings could ultimately help us more accurately predict who is most at risk and develop new targeted treatments.”

Scientists from the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, analysed maps of 63 DNA regions that had been previously linked to an inherited risk of the disease.

Finding the exact genes responsible for the increased risk is not straightforward, they explained, because of a phenomenon known as ‘DNA looping’  where small sequences of DNA interact with completely different parts of the structure.

However, a novel technique called Capture Hi-C allowed them to study those interactions. The team looked at DNA loops in cells from four different types of breast cancer and normal, healthy cells. They identified 110 new genes that could be responsible for the increased risk, and of those, 32 were linked to survival in women with oestrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.

The ICR said that testing for these genes could one day help to pick out women most at risk of developing the disease, or mean that they could be explored as targets for new drugs.

 

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