DNA mapping finds 110 genes linked to breast cancer

Researchers from the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at the Institute of Cancer Research in London may have found specific genes that are involved in increasing a woman's risk of developing breast cancer, according to a study published online March 12 in Nature Communications.  

The research team hopes future testing of these genes can identify women at high risk of developing breast cancer or help develop targeted treatments, according to an Institute of Cancer Research press release.  

"Large-scale genomic studies have been instrumental in associating areas of our DNA with an increased risk of breast cancer. This study brings these regions of DNA into sharper focus, uncovering a treasure trove of genes that can now be investigated in more detail," said Paul Workman, PhD, chief executive of the Institute of Cancer Research, in a prepared statement. "The ways in which particular genes influence cancer risk are highly complex. In the future, a better understanding of the genes identified in this study could lead to the discovery of new targeted drugs or new strategies to improve diagnosis or prevention of the disease." 

Researchers analyzed 63 regions of the human genome that had previously associated with the risk of breast cancer by mapping studies, according to the study. The used a technique called "Capture Hi-C" to study interactions between different regions of the human genome. 

They identified 110 genes linked to breast cancer and linked 32 of the new genes to how long women survived breast cancer. In addition, one third of the target genes were linked to the survival of women with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. 

"Finding the genes responsible for the increased risk is not straightforward because small sequences of DNA can interact with completely different parts of the genome through a strange phenomenon known as 'DNA looping,'" according to an Institute of Cancer Research press release.  

Researchers also noted that the 110 genes found in the study had not previously been linked to breast cancer, implying future research to determine the extent to which they are involved with the disease.  

"Our study took the high-level maps of breast cancer risk regions and used them to pull out specific genes that seem to be associated with the disease," said lead author Olivia Fletcher, PhD, MSc, specializing in functional genetic epidemiology at the Institute of Cancer Research, in a prepared statement. "Identifying these new genes will help us to understand in much greater detail the genetics of breast cancer risk. Ultimately, our study could pave the way for new genetic tests to predict a woman's risk, or new types of targeted treatment."