DNA study uncovers cancer triggers
A new source of cancer triggers has been discovered buried in the large expanse of DNA previously dismissed as “junk”.
Scientists highlighted “ultrasensitive” regions of non-coding DNA where even small alterations can effect many genes.
The data was used to develop a computer system called FunSeq which looks for non-coding genetic variants likely to have a big impact on human disease.
Applying FunSeq to 90 cancers - including breast, prostate and brain tumours - revealed almost 100 potential non-coding cancer drivers.
Non-coding DNA makes up 98% of the human genome but, unlike genes, does not provide instructions for making proteins.
Once all non-coding DNA was thought to have no function and was written off as “junk”. Now scientists know it plays an important role in regulating the activity of our 23,000 protein-encoding genes.
Among the new discoveries was a single DNA letter change that appears to have a major impact on the development of breast cancer. The change occurs in an ultrasensitive region central to a network of many related genes.
Lead scientist Dr Chris Tyler-Smith, from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire, said: “Although we see that the first effective use of our tool is for cancer genomes, this method can be applied to find any potential disease-causing variant in the non-coding regions of the genome.
“We are excited about the vast potential of this method to find further disease-causing, and also beneficial variants in these crucial but unexplored areas of our genome.”
The findings were published in the journal Science.
Are you able to Speak Out Safely? Sign our petition to put pressure on your trust to support an open and transparent NHS.
Online training units, written and reviewed by experts. Earn two hours' CPD and a personalised certificate for your portfolio.
Subscribers get FREE unlimited access to all our online learning units and non-subscribers can access each learning unit for £10 + VAT.