Genetics of Prostate Cancer

10 February 2008

Interview with 

Dr Ros Eeles & Professor Doug Easton


Chris - Now also in the news this week scientists have been looking into the genetics of prostate cancer.  That's actually the most common cancer that us guys suffer from.  The Naked Scientists' own Kat Arney actually works off air at Cancer Research UK.  She's going to let us know what this paper published in the journal Nature Genetics is all about...

A Prostate Cancer CellKat - Today sees the publication of a big new discovery by CRUK-funded scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research.  Using genome scanning technology the researchers have tracked down seven regions of DNA that harbour potentially important genes involved in prostate cancer.  This is significant because we know relatively little about the genes and molecules involved in this disease which has meant that research into prostate cancer hasn't progressed as fast as it has with other types of cancers such as breast cancer.  The research was led by Dr Ros Eeles.  She explains how the team carried out their ground-breaking work.

Ros - What the study did was that we analysed DNA, genetic material from blood samples from over 10,000 men and we compared genetic variance in men who had prostate cancer with a control group and in collaboration with the Protec study.  Men who were in that study gave blood samples and we used their samples as controls.  What we did was we ran genetic experiments and they looked for genetic variations, changes in the basis of the DNA code looking to see if the men with prostate cancer had a different overall profile from men who had a very low risk in the control group.  We found there was a marked difference, particularly in seven areas of the genome.

Kat - This kind of study was only possible thanks to recent advances in DNA analysis.  Another of the study's authors, Professor Doug Easton, explains more.

Doug - In the period since the human genome became sequenced we've been able to identify many millions of genetic changes, perhaps about 10 million that are known.  But at the same time we've also managed to develop a particular technology based on the arrays of these variants or SNPs which allow very large numbers of them to be tested simultaneously.  Also the costs have come down a lot so it's now possible to test many hundreds of thousands of SNPs on many thousands of people and that's really made the search for these more common genetic variants possible when it wasn't possible before.

Kat - But what does this all mean for the 30,000 men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in the UK?  Well, right now probably not a lot but the hope is that in the future these new genes may lead to better screening tests and even more effective targeted treatments.


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