The US National Cancer Institute (NCI) has launched a new project to identify genetic factors that influence the risk of prostate and breast cancer. The $14 million 'Cancer Genetic Markers of Susceptibility' (CGEMS) initiative aims to identify common genetic variations associated with the diseases. The scientists will first look at 2,500 DNA samples from men with prostate cancer and unaffected individuals. Later, the three-year study will focus on breast cancer.
Genetic mutations that greatly increase the risk of cancer have already been identified, but these familial cases of the disease account for just a few per cent of all cancers. Most cases of cancer are thought to be caused by complex interactions between genetic factors, and other non-genetic triggers. The CGEMS study - like several other ongoing projects aiming to tease apart the influence of genetic and other factors on common illnesses - will focus on 'single-letter' changes in the DNA code, called SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms).
One of the main goals of CGEMS is to identify common genetic variations that affect a person's risk of developing cancer by increasing or decreasing a person's susceptibility to environmental or lifestyle factors. The project will look at SNPs scattered throughout the entire human genome, work that will be carried out by scientists based at the San Diego-based firm Illumina. Once identified, the SNPs found to be associated with breast or prostate cancer will be scrutinised further, in a series of large, population-based studies.
Elias Zerhouni, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said that 'the mapping of the human genome opened new frontiers of science'. He added that projects like CGEMS 'will expand our knowledge and understanding of the genetics of disease'. NCI Deputy Director Anna D Barker said that the CGEMS project 'promises to provide a needed database to support the development of novel strategies for the early detection and prevention of these diseases'.
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NIH to study genetics of breast, prostate cancer