US scientists 'decode' breast and bowel cancer genomes

In collaboration with the Press Association

Researchers studying breast and bowel cancer genetics say they have identified almost 200 mutated genes they believe are involved in the diseases.

The research team at the John Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Centre in the US said that they had been surprised their method turned up so many new mutations.

"We expected to find a handful of genes, not 200," said lead author Dr Tobias Sjoblom.

They added that the complete genome for the diseases could offer a "road map" for how the cancers worked and would lay the ground for a huge amount of further research.

The research team compared genetic material taken from 11 breast and 11 bowel tumours against gene sequences from healthy breast and bowel cells .

Using a DNA analysis technique called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), they looked for errors in the gene sequences of 13,000 of the estimated 20,000 genes in the human genome.

After finding thousands of possible mutations, the team then looked for errors which could have a major impact on the genes' functions and cause cancer.

This whittled the number of unique mutations down to about 200.

A significant finding was that the nature of the mutations differed markedly between breast and bowel cancer samples.

Cancer Research UK's Ed Yong welcomed the results.

"This is potentially a very important piece of research. Most of the cancer genes identified in this study have not been previously linked to cancer. These newly identified genes could provide rich hunting grounds for scientists looking for new ways of treating or detecting cancers."

"In the future, scientists hope to be able to tailor plans for preventing or treating cancer to each person's individual genetic profile. Studies like this can help us to accomplish this goal."

Researcher Dr Bert Vogelstein, who also worked on the project, added, "Cancer scientists recognise that merely identifying pieces of DNA that have a role in the disease is a beginning, not an end to our work," added

"But by using a more systematic method to identify genes that play an essential role in cancer, we will be able to guide that work."

The research was conducted by the John Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Centre and is published in Science Express.

Find out more about how mutations cause cancer