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Expanding the Cancer Gene Pool

  • Expanding the Cancer Gene Pool
    December 29, 2012

    Genes are at the heart of a number of cancers. When cancer-promoting genes are identified, they can sometimes become targets for new drugs.

    After working with people in Asia, researchers have discovered three new gene variants that are involved in colorectal cancer. New drugs may possibly be developed to attack these faulty molecules and improve treatment.

    Tell your doctor about your family’s cancer history.

    Only about 6 percent of the colorectal cancer cases in the world have a genetic link. People who have inherited these genes are at higher risk of developing the disease than are people without the genes.

    Several gene variants have been discovered in previous studies. However, these studies have been limited to European and Caucasian groups.

    "Looking at different ethnic groups is important because the genetic structures can be different enough that variants identified in one population do not explain risk in other populations," said study senior author, Wei Zheng, MD, PhD, MPH, professor of cancer research at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

    Dr. Zheng and colleagues established the Asia Colorectal Cancer Consortium in 2009 to search for gene variants in people from China, Korea and Japan.

    The scientists used what’s called a “genomic-wide association study” to look for altered genes in 2,098 people with colorectal cancer and 5,749 people without the disease. At first, 64 variants were detected. That number was then narrowed to four, with three of the variants linked to colorectal cancer risks in a study involving Europeans.

    "The findings from this study are relevant to both Asian and European populations," Dr. Zheng said in a statement.

    He said that this study illustrates the importance of including diverse populations in seeking genetic answers for diseases – including colorectal cancer.

    This study was published December 23 in an Advanced Online Publication in Nature Genetics.

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