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Promise and Progress - Mega Analysis Uncovers Prostate Cancer Risk

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Mega Analysis Uncovers Prostate Cancer Risk

Date: January 15, 2015

William Isaacs

Nature Genetics, Sept. 14, 2014

A genetic analysis of more than 87,000 men—43,303 with prostate cancer and 43,737 without—by a global team of scientists has revealed 23 new differences in the genetic code that could increase a man’s risk of developing the cancer.  The analysis is believed to be the largest of its kind and has uncovered genetic mutations linked to prostate cancer risk among men from a broad array of ethnic groups, including European, African, Japanese, and Latino ancestry.

William Isaacs, Ph.D., a genetic scientist at the Brady Urological Institute, says the analysis represents a conglomeration of information gleaned from many smaller studies over time.  For its part, Johns Hopkins scientists, Isaacs and the institute’s director, Alan Partin, M.D., Ph.D., contributed samples and data from 800 African-American men—half with prostate cancer and half without.

The analysis, which was led by the Institute of Cancer Research, the Royal Marsden National Health Services Foundation Trust in London, and the University of Southern California, scanned 10 million areas of the genome to identify single differences in the A-T-C-G genetic code, called SNPs (pronounced snips).  It is the most common type of genetic variation.  The investigators uncovered the 23 new SNPs by comparing the scanned genetic regions of men with prostate cancer to the cancer-free men.

“There is power in numbers that helped us find new variants that were only hinted at in smaller study populations, especially among minority men.  As we found the same variants across several populations, the evidence became stronger that they were definitely linked to prostate cancer,” Isaacs says.

Inheriting any single genetic variant has a small effect on genetic risk, but Partin says some men will inherit many of these variants, which could put them at substantially higher risk for prostate cancer—three to six times higher than the general population.  Knowing what these genetic variants are—76 previously discovered and these additional 23—will help identify men who could benefit from early prostate cancer screening, he says.

The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, Cancer Research UK, Prostate Cancer UK, Patrick Henry, P. Kevin Jaffee, and the Peter Jay Sharp Foundation.

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