Gene study uncovers origins of many common cancers

Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

Researchers in Britain have set out the first comprehensive map of mutational processes behind the development of tumors – work that should in future lead to better ways to treat and prevent a wide range of cancers.

In a study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, researchers who analyzed more than 7,000 genomes, or genetic codes, of common forms of cancer uncovered 21 so-called “signatures” of processes that mutate DNA.

“(This) is an important step to discovering the processes that drive cancer formation,” said Serena Nik-Zainal of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute who worked on the research.

“Through detailed analysis, we can start to use the overwhelming amounts of information buried deep in the DNA of cancers to our advantage in terms of understanding how and why cancers arise.”

All cancers are caused by mutations in DNA occurring in cells of the body during someone’s lifetime.

Scientists are clear about some things, such as that chemicals in tobacco smoke cause mutations in lung cells that lead to lung cancers, or that ultraviolet light triggers mutations in skin cells that lead to skin cancers.

But they have yet to figure out the biological processes that cause mutations behind most common cancers.

“We’re beginning to know quite a lot about what the consequences of those mutations are. But actually we have a really rudimentary understanding of what is causing the mutations in the first place,” said Mike Stratton, the Sanger Institute’s director and the lead researcher on this study.

“And after all, the things that are causing those mutations are the causes of cancer.”

The team analyzed the genetic codes of 7,042 cases of cancer in people from around the world, covering 30 different types of the disease, to see if they could find patterns, or signatures, of mutational processes.

They discovered that all the cancers contained two or more signatures – a finding that shows the variety of processes that work together when a cancer develops.

They also found that different cancers have different numbers of mutational processes. While two mutational processes underlie the development of ovarian cancer, there are six behind the development of liver cancer, the researchers said

And some signatures are found in multiple cancer types, while others are only found in one type. Out of the 30 cancers, 25 had signatures from mutational processes linked to ageing.

In a suggestion of what might be behind many common cancers, the team also discovered that a family of enzymes called APOBECs, known to mutate DNA, was linked to more than half of the cancer types studied.

APOBECs can be activated when the body is responding to a viral infection. The researchers said it may be that the resulting “signatures” are collateral damage on the human genome caused by the enzymes acting to protect cells from viruses.

Stratton described the results as like uncovering the “archaeological traces” of the many mutational processes that lead to most cancers.

“This compendium of mutational signatures and the consequent insights into the mutational processes underlying them has profound implications for the understanding of cancer.”

 



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

MTA announces service changes for Sunday

The MTA has announced service changes ahead of Sunday's People's Climate March, which will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday. Riders using…

Local

NYPD launches Twitter account for L train

The NYPD recently launched a Twitter handle dedicated to the L train and its riders. According to @NYPDLtrain, officers went underground Thursday morning to hand…

Local

Bushwick community space offers activists a place to…

A new Bushwick community space offers community activists to meet, create, learn and throw back a few cold ones. MayDay, located 214 Starr Street in Bushwick,…

Local

Activists gearing up for Sunday's "historic" People's Climate…

If all goes according to plan, more than 100,000 people will gather near Central Park West on Sunday morning and march through midtown to raise…

Movies

Kevin Smith makes peace with the Internet

I was thinking about Ain't It Cool News and Harry Knowles last night, wondering if anyone from Ain't It Cool had reviewed my new movie…

Movies

Art imitates life in 'Swim Little Fish Swim'

There's a certain comfort to be taken in finding that young artists are still moving to New York and trying to make it — and…

Movies

Review: Terry Gilliam's 'The Zero Theorem' is better…

Terry Gilliam's latest, "The Zero Theorem," concerns a reclusive malcontent (Christoph Waltz) struggling with the search for the meaning of life.

Music

Esperanza Spalding and a being called Emily get…

Esperanza Spalding is about to spiral off in a brand new direction that may or may include an alter ego named Emily.

NFL

Oday Aboushi ready for increased role, and to…

Oday Aboushi might feel comfortable enough to engage in some trash talk the next time he is on the field.

NFL

Giants vs. Texans: 3 things to watch

The Giants host the surprising Texans (2-0) in what may already be a must-win game for Big Blue.

NFL

Eric Decker misses practice again, could miss Monday

Jets wide receiver Eric Decker missed practice Thursday as he continues to rehab a hamstring injury suffered last Sunday.

MLB

Derek Jeter still focused on baseball as final…

Derek Jeter has effectively hid his emotions for 20 years in the Bronx.

Parenting

A sneaky way to serve kids fruits and…

"My First Juices and Smoothies" gives smoothie recipes for kids.

Style

3 things we love from Day 1 of…

The highlights from Day 1 of Milan Fashion Week.

Sex

Why don't more couples use condoms?

  Call it the “condom moment.” That’s the name the authors of a new study have given to the pivotal conversation every couple should be…

Sex

Need an idea for a first date? Here's…

Picture your idea of a nice first date. Is it dinner and a movie? A visit to an interesting museum exhibit? Instead, an expert on…