Two new studies have shed light on the genetic changes found in cells that become cancerous. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore have discovered that over 30 per cent of colorectal cancers may be associated with alterations in genes that produce proteins called tyrosine kinases. Their findings, published in Science, may help develop new treatments that target the altered forms of these proteins, which normally control cell growth. The team looked at 138 different tyrosine kinase genes in 182 samples of colorectal cancer cells. They identified 46 alterations, present in 14 of the genes. 'One could imagine personalised therapeutics, based on mutations in different kinase genes and designed to match the mutated pathways present in each patient's tumour DNA' said study author Victor E Velculescu. Lead author Alberto Bardelli said that the study would have been impossible without the technology and knowledge developed from the Human Genome Project. 'These mutations are truly needles in a haystack' he said.
In a separate study, scientists at Duke University Medical Centre in North Carolina have developed a new genetic test to help predict if a breast cancer tumour is likely to spread, and whether or not it will respond to treatment. The technique, which is published in the Lancet medical journal, works by examining the activity of several clusters of 50-100 genes. It proved to be 90 per cent accurate in predicting which women would have a recurrence of the cancer within three years. 'Our model is the clearest example to date of a step towards personalised medicine' claimed study author Erich Huang.