Genes and cancer
Professor Richard Houlston and his team are searching for cancer genes. They are carrying out large-scale studies of human populations to discover genetic faults that increase the risk of certain types of cancer including bowel, brain and lung. They are also searching for genes that influence a person's sensitivity to the effects of radiation.
Searching for cancer genes
Professor Houlston is comparing the genes of hundreds of bowel cancer patients with genes from unaffected people to find subtle differences that may influence cancer risk. This study has already revealed two common gene faults that can significantly increase a person's risk of getting bowel cancer.
In a separate study, the researchers are looking at samples taken from up to 2,500 brain tumour patients to find gene variations that may increase the risk of developing a tumour.
In 2006, Professor Houlston and his team announced the discovery of 64 gene faults that they suspected of being linked to lung cancer. In 2009 the team confirmed that these inherited changes can increase a smoker’s risk of developing lung cancer, and determine the type of lung cancer that develops. Although 9 out of 10 cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking, these findings help to explain why some smokers are more likely to develop cancer than others.
Sensitivity to radiation
Professor Houlston is also studying the genes of people from 17 Israeli families who received radiotherapy in the 1950s as treatment for a scalp infection. Some of these individuals went on to develop a certain type of brain cancer.
From this work, the researchers hope to find genes that influence a person's sensitivity to the effects of radiotherapy. This will help us to understand how radiation in our environment can affect cancer risk and also identify ways of improving radiotherapy treatment for cancer patients.
Cancer Research UK has supported Professor Houlston's work since 1995. Through large-scale genetic research like this, we hope to understand more about the role that different genes play in cancer.
Other research projects by Richard Houlston
Funding period: 01 October 2012 to 30 September 2015