Scientists have found around eighty new gene variations linked to breast, prostate and ovarian cancers
A thousand scientists from one hundred international research groups working over four years. Thirteen papers spread across five journals. DNA analysis of two hundred thousand people. And eighty new genetic variations, or SNPs (pronounced “snips”) linked to three different types of cancer, doubling the current total known about so far.
These are impressive, big figures from an equally impressive, big piece of science, which Cancer Research UK helped to fund (here’s the press release). But what does it all mean?
To find out, we spoke to Professor Doug Easton from the University of Cambridge, one of the leaders of the project.
Cancer Research UK: What exactly are SNPs?
Prof Easton: SNP stands for “single nucleotide polymorphism”, and it’s a single ‘letter’ difference in the DNA between individuals. Your DNA is made up of around 3 billion of these ‘letters’ – there are four possible letters you can have: A, C, T and G – so a SNP is just a single place in your genome where you might have one particular letter, and someone else has a different one.
To explain a bit more about SNPs and what they do, have a look at this short animation:
It’s clear that momentum is gathering and things are moving faster than ever before. And now an important new study from scientists at our Cambridge Research Institute, published in the journal Cancer Cell, reveals a completely new gene network that can carry on driving advanced prostate cancer after patients become resistant to hormone treatment.
The findings paint a new picture of the processes that drive prostate cancer, and shed light on how we might be able to tackle it more effectively in the future. To find out more, watch this brilliant little video featuring lead researcher Naomi Sharma and some Lego:
Let’s look in a bit more detail at what the Cambridge team did, and how their discovery could help us beat prostate cancer sooner.
Before the final day of the conference started, we once again awoke to news stories based on research presented over the last few days.
The BBC led with figures released at the conference showing that the economic cost of cancer tops £15bn a year in the UK. Drawing on the same figures, the Daily Mail highlighted the staggering toll of lung cancer in the UK – £2.4 billion per year – which is more than other common cancers such as breast and bowel.
We agree with their headline that there’s an urgent need to stop younger people from taking up smoking – the major cause of lung cancer. Continue reading →
Here’s our weekly round-up – it’s been a particularly good-news week in the area of prostate cancer research and care, but there were a number of other high profile stories too:
We were delighted to hear that abiraterone is now available in Scotland, meaning it is now available for men with advanced prostate cancer across the UK. This story was reported by the BBC and we discussed it in more detail in our blog post.
There’s more good news on the way for men with advanced prostate cancer. A new drug called enzalutamide was found both to extend and improve the quality of life for men with advanced disease. Taken alongside the availability of abiraterone, our experts think we’re on the cusp of a ‘sea change’ in prostate cancer care. But it needs to clear all the regulatory hurdles before it can be available on the NHS to UK men.
And still sticking with prostate cancer, our own scientists have discovered a potential route for treating cancers that are resistant to hormone therapy by targeting a protein called p23 (here’s our press release). Excitingly, drugs that block p23 are already in use for other diseases, so this research may be the first step in developing another new drug for prostate cancer.
Abiraterone can give valuable extra months of life
We’re delighted with today’s news that abiraterone will be available for men with advanced prostate cancer on the NHS in Scotland.
This is fantastic for Scottish men with the disease as it brings them in line with the rest of the UK, which has been able to access the drug since the NICE ruling back in May.
This is the second time the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) – which assesses whether drugs offer good value for money – has looked at the drug, having turned it down in March. The pharmaceutical company, Janssen, offered a better deal this time around, which enabled the SMC to say yes.
This is a great decision that we’re really pleased to see. But it has been too long in coming and raised important questions about how drugs are made available across the UK. As we have said before, we need the processes by which medicines are assessed to be streamlined so that patients are not left in limbo. And we need the regulators and pharmaceutical companies to work together to get the best outcome for patients.
Abiraterone is not a cure for prostate cancer, but it can give men with the disease precious extra months of life to spend with friends and family. We’re really proud of our involvement in developing the drug, and in telling NICE, the SMC and Janssen why we think they should work together to get it approved. It is a real success story when years of hard work in the lab turn into effective treatments for patients.
And we couldn’t do any of this without the generous funds from you – our supporters. Thank you.
Translating a ‘eureka’ moment in the laboratory into new medical advances for cancer patients is never easy. But thanks to the support of the public, we’re experts at it.
And today we’re pleased to introduce four new members of our team of over 4,000 doctors, scientists and nurses around the UK.
All four have the rare potential not only to excel in the clinic – treating and caring for patients – but also to carry out innovative research into cancer. This combination of clinical acumen and research expertise is crucial to help us bridge the gap between the lab bench and the patient’s bedside.
Thanks to our thousands of supporters who help us in countless ways – from dropping off a bag of clothes at a Cancer Research UK shop to sponsoring a friend a couple of pounds – we’ve been able to invest £2.75 million in the following Clinician Scientist Fellowships. (This comes hot on the heels of last month’s announcement of an £11 million investment into some of the brightest minds in cancer research.)
You can learn more about each of the new clinician scientist fellows work by clicking on the photos:
Dr Holger Auner is working on new ways to treat multiple myeloma View profile