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'Gene signature' predicts chemotherapy survival

22 April 2013
Appeared in BioNews 701

Scientists have identified an eight-gene 'signature' that can predict patients' response to chemotherapy, according to a study published in journal BMC Medicine.

The researchers, from Academia Sinica and the National Taiwan University College of Medicine, looked at the effect of 99 different chemotherapy drugs on 60 cancer cell lines, representing leukaemia, melanoma, and breast cancer, among others.

They looked at the pattern of activation of these genes in each of the cell lines and found that eight genes in particular influenced the cells' response to the drugs.

Using this 'gene signature', the researchers were able to predict which people would have a better chance of surviving after chemotherapy without relapse. The researchers calculated whether patients had an above-average risk of relapse following chemotherapy by studying which of these eight genes were expressed. Patients with a low score were found to have longer relapse-free survival times after chemotherapy.

Professor Ker-Chau Li, who conducted the research, said: 'Our study found eight genes which were involved in invasion, and the relative activation of these genes correlated to chemotherapy outcome'.

The finding hints at the possibility of personalised cancer treatment, as people who are classified as 'high-risk' can receive more targeted therapy. Having a better understanding of the genetic makeup of the tumours means that the most effective chemotherapy drug can be used.

The researchers made their predictions in people with breast and lung cancer, but they hope their findings can be extended to other forms of cancer.

Professor Pan-Chyr Yang of National Taiwan University said: 'The eight-gene signature obtained here may help choice of treatment as part of individualised cancer therapy and our method of gene discovery may be applicable in studying other cancers'.

The researchers acknowledged that the cancer cells in the body may react differently to the cell lines they tested, saying: 'There is room to improve our eight-gene signature for drug-sensitivity prediction [...] Other genomic components, such as DNA copy number, single nucleotide polymorphisms, methylation and microRNA, have not been considered in our study'.

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