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BCRF Investigator Leads International Research Team to Discover How Slight Variations in Genes Affect Breast Cancer Risk

By BCRF | December 22, 2015

Dr. Kerstin Meyer pioneered a new technique to better understand how even small genetic variations impacts cancer development

A paper authored by BCRF investigator Dr. Kerstin Meyer of University of Cambridge, has identified 36 overlapping collections of genes (known as “regulons”) that are associated with increased breast cancer risk. The international collaborative effort of Cancer Research UK’s Cambridge Institute at Cambridge University and researchers from the Dame Roma Mitchell Cancer Research Laboratories at the University of Adelaide, have produced a significant finding in the first study of its kind to link small and diverse genetic risk factors to breast cancer.

“Just as the shape of a face can run in a family, so can the risk of cancer,” said Meyer in a recent statement. “This family resemblance is caused by the inheritance of tiny normal variations within hundreds of different genes.”

Researching single gene variations one by one is a tedious and difficult task. Meyer and colleagues are the first to use a network-based computational approach to gain an understanding of the effect of multiple gene variations on breast cancer risk, and identify factors that mediate their influence. The collaborative team includes experts in the fields of molecular biology, epidemiology and computational biology.

“This innovative technique is what led us to develop such a thorough understanding of how genes influence breast cancer risk,” Meyer continued.

The results of the study will provide a better understanding of how genetic variation can influence cancer development in not only breast cancer, but many cancers. The aim is to develop approaches for early detection, prevention or treatment of this disease through genetic research.

“We’ve found a way of looking at the combined effect of all of the risk genes together, and how these effects may be influenced by an individual’s internal environment.”