Cancer just got more personal and that may be a good thing.
Researchers say an in-depth look at the genome of breast cancers has revealed some individualized genes, as well as a range of mutations that may better explain tumor development.
The scientists in the U.K. who conducted the analysis say the discoveries could pave the way for more personalized treatment of breast cancer.
“It’s an important step. From it, you can very specifically design drugs for that [person’s] cancer,” Dr. Serena Nik-Zainal, a career development fellow leader in the cancer genome project at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, told Healthline.
Finding the Genes
The researchers analyzed a total of 560 breast cancer genomes that came from 556 women and four men.
The patients came from around the world, including the United States, Europe, and Asia.
The researchers said each patient’s cancer genome provides a complete historical account of the genetic changes that have taken place during their life.
That’s because the DNA in our cells gathers genetic information as the environment, the wear and tear of aging, and other processes damage the body.
These mutations form patterns that can provide clues about how cancer is formed.
For example, Nik-Zainal’s team found women who carry the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a higher risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. They also have cancer genome profiles different from each other.
She said the process created a “user-friendly genetic profile” for each patient.
“No two women have the same set of mutations,” said Nik-Zainal.
Location, Location, Location
While the genes themselves are quite individualized, the places where they mutate can be pretty common.
Nik-Zainal said certain mutations happen in “roughly the same location” on DNA strands.
These patterns could help medical personnel identify what type of mutation is occurring in individual patients.
Nik-Zainal noted that their analysis has created a large database of genetic information for future research.
“It’s a comprehensive study of every single genetic change,” she said.
Where It Could Lead
The goal of this research is to help develop specific treatments for each cancer patient.
"All cancers are due to mutations that occur in all of us in the DNA of our cells during the course of our lifetimes. Finding these mutations is crucial to understanding the causes of cancer and to developing improved therapies,” said Professor Sir Mike Stratton, director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, in a press statement.
Nik-Zainal said technology to study the genome is “galloping ahead” but scientists still need to connect this new information with advanced treatments.
And, she noted, scientists must always keep an eye on how cancer adapts when new treatments do come along.
“Cancer is clever. It finds ways to get around the host,” she said.