Cambridge researchers map all genes that can cause breast cancer

Oncology patients to benefit from gene profiling to determine treatment.

May 4, 2016 01:55
2 minute read.

Doctor [Illustrative]. (photo credit: INGIMAGE)


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Gene profiling of all cancer patients will inevitably be a part of oncology treatment in the future, Prof. Ephrat Levy-Lahad, director of the Medical Genetics Institute at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center said Tuesday following the announcement this week that Cambridge scientists have mapped all the genes that cause breast cancer.

The study, which identified nearly all the errors that cause healthy breast tissue to multiply wildly, was published in the journal Nature on Monday, arousing speculation that it eventually will lead to better drugs for treating breast cancer.

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“It is an important discovery,” said Levy-Lahad, who also teaches internal medicine and medical genetics at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School and is a leading expert in the genetic aspect of breast cancer.

“The team analyzed the tumors themselves. Only about 10 percent of the breast tumors they looked at were hereditary,” showing up in the germline and transmitted to offspring, she said, adding that most of the mutations were in somatic cells that are not necessarily hereditary.

“The next obvious step in oncology is to map genomes of cancer patients,” she said.

“The technology exists, but we need the resources to do it.

The process costs a few thousand dollars per patient.”


Still, she said, this discovery must be confirmed, and it will take time, noting that the war against cancer is long and ongoing.

“One can’t say that the discovery will save patients now.

There are already large initiatives around the world in gene mapping of a variety of cancers. This study was the first large-scale genome analysis of breast cancer. It has been clear for some time that oncologists can get a lot of information that could benefit the patient from sequencing tumors... [and] this provides additional data.

“It is unquestionable that this technique will be part of characterization of cancers. It is being performed in some places in the US and elsewhere, paid for by the patient.

However, the first step in dealing with cancer remains examining the pathology, not gene profiling,” she said.

The new technique is not yet included in Israel’s basket of health services.

The Nature article and commentators called the profiling of breast tumors a “near-perfect picture” of the genetic events that cause breast cancer and a “milestone” that could help unlock new ways of treating and preventing the disease.

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