Scientists hail ‘Milestone’ genetic find for breast cancer

Personalised treatment for breast cancer could become commonplace as scientists reveal they have compiled the most detailed picture of which genetic mutations are involved in the disease.

The findings were published in the journals ‘Nature’ and ‘Nature Communications’ and explain which genes cause healthy breast tissue to turn cancerous. Researchers from the Sanger Institute in Cambridge analysed the genes of 560 breast cancer patients, including some male. They found that out of the 20,000 genes in the human genome 93 of these genes, if mutated, could cause the development of tumours. Scientists were also able to map the mutations of individual tumours leading the scientists to conclude that the genes of each breast cancer are highly individual. They found that women whose tumour cells carried faults in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes – which increase the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer – had different genetic profiles that were distinct from other breast tumours.

Prof Sir Mike Stratton, the director of the Sanger Institute in Cambridge which led the study, said it was a “milestone” in cancer research. “We will hand the gene list over to the universities, the pharmaceuticals, the biotech companies to start developing new drugs because those mutated genes and their proteins are targets for new therapeutics.”

Prof Stratton expects new drugs will still take at least a decade to reach patients and warns: “Cancers are devious beasts and they work out ways of developing resistance to new therapeutics so overall I’m optimistic, but it’s a tempered optimism.”