An international research consortium, which includes a team from Taiwan, has identified genomic sites that may harbor breast cancer genes — findings that will contribute to breast cancer prevention and treatment, academic sources said yesterday.
“Under the umbrella of the Breast Cancer Association Consortium (BCAC), more than 100 academics from the US, Europe and Asia took part in the research that led to the discovery of multiple genomic sites that may harbor breast cancer genes on chromosomes 2, 3 and 17,” a press statement released by Academia Sinica said
“The findings are a major milestone in cancer research,” the statement said.
Breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in women and its risk factors suggest that hormones are involved in the development of the disease.
Early onset of menstrual periods, late menopause and having no history of pregnancy have been shown to significantly increase the risk of developing breast cancer.
However, only half of the women who develop the disease fit into the currently recognized at-risk groups, a fact that has prompted scientists to search for genes that may help them to better understand this type of cancer.
According to the Academia Sinica statement, the research consortium used a cutting-edge gene discovery tool — the genome-wide scan (GWS) — to identify disease genes.
“The discovery of multiple genomic sites that may harbor breast cancer genes on chromosomes 2, 3 and 17 could result in new anti-cancer drugs and new preventive, therapeutic and diagnostic approaches,” the statement said.
It emphasized that the findings of the GWS-based study clearly suggest that many factors are involved in the development of breast cancer and that both genetic and environmental factors play roles. The GWS approach provides a unique opportunity to comprehensively evaluate the relative importance of the individual genes of each person, and may result in significant improvements in the efficacy of population-based programs for the prevention of breast cancer, it said.
This technique may also be applied to other common types of cancer and provide clues to the development of common chronic diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes, the statement added.
The Taiwan team, formally known as the Taiwan Breast Cancer Study (TWBCS), was invited to join the international research project in 2006, the statement said.
The TWBCS team is composed of surgeons, academics and a group of local breast cancer patients, the statement said.
Noting that the research findings emphasize the importance of local and international cooperation, Shen Chen-yang (沈志揚), a research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences, said the cooperative project has also contributed to long-term bio-banking of human specimens in modern medical research, which gives access to an adequate sample of study subjects.
“An ample sample is necessary to obtain consistent research results, through which further developments in cancer prevention and treatment can be achieved,” he said, adding that a comparison of the genetic profiles of Taiwanese breast cancer patients and those in other countries and populations has identified factors specific to local patients.