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110 genes linked to breast cancer

Tuesday March 13th, 2018

More than 100 genes have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer in the most comprehensive study yet.

Scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, used a pioneering genetic technique to analyse maps of DNA regions linked to an inherited risk of breast cancer and identify the genes that raise the risk of the disease.

Researchers also linked 32 of the new genes to the length of time women survived breast cancer, which could be important for potential targets for future treatments.

They looked in detail at 63 areas of the genome that had previously been associated with the risk of breast cancer by mapping studies and found that the genes responsible for the increased risk is not straightforward because small sequences of DNA can interact with completely different parts of the genome through DNA looping.

The study, published in today’s edition of Nature Communications, describes how they developed a technique called Capture Hi-C to study interactions between different regions of the genome.

The team at the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) found that some of the 63 regions of the genome physically interacted with genes more than a million letters of DNA code away.

The researchers identified 110 new genes that could potentially be behind an increased risk of breast cancer across 33 of the regions they studied. No specific genes were found in the remaining 30 areas.

One third of the target genes for which they had patient data – 32 out of 97 – were also linked to survival in women with oestrogen receptor-positive breast cancer, suggesting they play an important role in the disease.

Dr Olivia Fletcher, team leader in functional genetic epidemiology at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, said: “Our study took the high-level maps of breast cancer risk regions and used them to pull out specific genes that seem to be associated with the disease.

“We studied how DNA forms loops to allow physical interactions between a DNA sequence in one part of the genome and a risk gene in another.

“Identifying these new genes will help us to understand in much greater detail the genetics of breast cancer risk. Ultimately, our study could pave the way for new genetic tests to predict a woman’s risk, or new types of targeted treatment.”

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive at Breast Cancer Now, which funded the study, added:

“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.”

Nature Communications 12 March 2018

Tags: Cancer | Genetics | UK News | Women's Health & Gynaecology

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