Page last updated at 17:02 GMT, Wednesday, 22 October 2008 18:02 UK

Gene 'roadmap' for lung cancers

Adenocarcinoma cancer cell from a lung cancer
Scientists are look for new ways to fight lung cancer

The most complete survey yet of the genes which go wrong when lung cancer takes hold has been carried out by US researchers.

The findings, which doubled the number of genes linked to a common form of the disease, will guide researchers in the hunt for new treatments.

A UK specialist said some of the genes listed by the research were already being examined further by scientists.

Fewer than 10% of UK lung cancer patients survive more than five years.

Like most cancers, the development of lung cancer is due to changes, or mutations, in the DNA of patients accumulated over many years.

The scientists looked at samples of lung adenocarcinoma donated by 188 patients from across the US, then worked through a catalogue of 623 "suspect" genes, many implicated in other cancers, comparing them in detail to the same genes in healthy tissue from the same patient.

This pioneering work has painted the clearest and most complete portrait yet of lung cancer's molecular complexities
Dr Alan Guttmacher
National Human Genome Research Institute

They found 1,000 different mutations across all the samples, but found the same 26 mutations cropping up again and again - most of which had never been linked to lung cancer before.

These are likely to be explored in more detail to find out what role they play in the development and spread of the disease, and whether they might be blocked by new treatments.

Dr Alan Guttmacher, from the National Human Genome Research Institute, said: "By harnessing the power of genomic research, this pioneering work has painted the clearest and most complete portrait yet of lung cancer's molecular complexities."

Smoking damage

The research also looked at the differences between tumours in smokers or former smokers - who make up 90% of lung cancer patients, and those in non-smokers.

They found a far higher rate of mutations in the tumours taken from smokers.

Although the researchers found clues which point strongly to the importance of particular chemical processes in lung cancer, none of the findings will produce new treatments immediately.

Dr Richard Gibbs, from the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, and one of the co-authors of the research, said: "Clearly, much still remains to be discovered.

"We have just begun to realise the tremendous potential of large-scale genomic studies to unravel the many mysteries of cancer."

Professor Michael Seckl, head of Cancer Research UK's Lung Cancer Group at Imperial College London, said that the research was "exciting", both confirming that existing research was heading in the right direction, and throwing up possibilities for new projects.

He said: "It's highly useful but it will take some time to be fully translated into treatments that can help patients.

"Some people, including ourselves, are already working on some of these areas, and this research is like the icing on the cake as far as confirming that we are doing the right thing."


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