Genetic map of prostate cancer cracked
The genetic code of one of the most deadly cancers has been mapped by scientists for the first time in a breakthrough that could "transform" our understanding of the disease.
The blueprint uncovers many of the mutations and genetic damage that drives prostate cancer and could lead to new treatments and better diagnosis.
Such a detailed picture of the fundamental causes of the disease will lead to earlier detection and new breeds of drugs to reverse the damage.
Eventually it could lead to patient's having their own "cancer chart" drawn up which could be used by doctors to provide "made to measure" personal care.
Dr Mike Berger, lead author at the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard, said: "This is a transforming moment in understanding the underlying biology of prostate cancer.
"It offers the potential of new targets for treatment and earlier diagnosis of the more aggressive strains of the disease."
All cancers are caused by damage or mutations to the DNA of formerly healthy cells acquired during a person’s lifetime.
This damage causes them to grow into abnormal lumps or tumours and spread around the body disrupting its normal processes and eventually – if unchecked – causing death.
Dr Berger and colleagues sequenced the genomes of seven different prostate cancer tumours and compared them to healthy tissues to find where they had been damaged or mutated.
They found more than 21,000 mutations – like spelling mistakes – in the seven tumours as well as more than a 100 "rearrangements" where whole sections of DNA have broken free and reattached to other parts of the genome.
Most of these alterations to the normal genome are known as "passengers" and cause damage but not cancer.
However a small number are called "drivers" and these lead to the disease.
By sequencing many more cancer patients over the next few years, the researchers hope to distil down the mix until they have a handful of targets to hit with treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
“Whole genome sequencing gives us fascinating new insights into a category of alterations that may be especially important in prostate cancer,” said Dr Levi Garraway.
“This first whole genome view shows us tantalising evidence for several new prostate cancer genes that likely would have remained undiscovered had we not been taking a genome-wide approach."
Prostate cancer is the most prevalent cancer among British men, affecting a third of men over the age of 50 and accounting for about 10,000 deaths every year in England and Wales.
It is second only to lung cancer in terms of loss of life.
Dr Kate Holmes, the Prostate Cancer Charity's Research Manager, said: "This is one of the first studies to examine the sequence and structure of the genetic code as a whole, rather than one or more single genes alone.
"This has allowed the researchers to identify specific patterns where large disruptions in the structure of the genetic code have taken place.
"These disruptions can rearrange the way genes fit together and the way they function, which is often associated with the development of aggressive prostate cancer.
"This is interesting research that highlights a new approach to understanding the way prostate cancer develops. However, only 14 tissue biopsy samples were analysed in total. The next stage will be to repeat the study on a much larger scale, which will be an extensive piece of work."
The latest research is published in the journal Nature.