New genetic 'map' drawn up that will give better diagnosis for breast cancer patients and more effective treatment
17:11 GMT, 16 May 2012
A genetic 'map' that could help give more accurate diagnoses of breast cancer has been drawn up, showing the varied landscape of the disease in more detail than ever before.
Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, say the development will lead to more effective treatments.
They found that rather than being a single disease, breast cancer is a diverse range of cancer species.
Scientists described nine new genes that drive the development of breast cancer, bringing the known total to 40.
The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has drawn up a genetic 'map' of breast cancer showing the landscape of the disease in more detail than ever before
The research, conducted by a large international team of British-led experts, involved analysing DNA from 100 tumour samples.
Scientists scoured more than 21,000 genes for cancer-causing 'driver' mutations that can turn an ordinary cell into one that multiplies uncontrollably.
They also identified nine genes previously not known to be linked to the disease.
Study leader Professor Mike Stratton, director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute said the cancer can be caused by more than 70 different mutations
Study leader Professor Mike Stratton, director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, said: 'In 28 cases we found only a single driver, but the maximum number of driver mutations in an individual cancer was six.
'We found that breast cancer can be caused by more than 70 different combinations of mutations.
'If we consider three breast cancers, each with four driver mutations: they might share none of those driver mutations – so each is a different genetic “animal”. They are different cancers driven by different genes. We need to classify them as carefully as we can. This study is a step towards that goal.'
All cancers carry mutations – changes in the genetic code – that are acquired during a person’s lifetime.
A subset of these, known as driver mutations, are causally related to the development of cancer. Others, called 'passenger' mutations, may be present without directly triggering the disease.
The new research, published in the journal Nature, involved the first comprehensive exploration of breast cancer driver mutations.
Scientists hope their findings will ultimately lead to new and better treatments, tailored to the genetic make-up of individual patients.
Prof Stratton added: 'The picture is certainly more complicated than we would have wanted, but as with many other things knowledge is our strongest weapon. These comprehensive insights reveal the faulty wiring of the cellular circuit board that causes cells to behave as cancers.
he research, conducted by a large international team of British-led experts, involved analysing DNA from 100 tumour samples
'Understanding our enemy at this level of detail will allow us to take more rational approaches to therapy, to understand why some cancers respond to drugs and others do not, and direct us to new vulnerabilities to be exploited in new treatments.'
Co-author Professor Jorge Reis-Filho, from the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, said: 'This important study provides a detailed catalogue of the faulty genes across different types of breast cancer.
'We now know breast cancer is really complex, but also have a much greater understanding of what drives its development. This allows us to start thinking about the most effective ways of finding and combining drugs that target critical points in a patient’s breast cancer based on this information.
'Breast cancer scientists are making strides towards personalised medicine by matching the right treatment to the right patient and this research is a step towards that goal.'