Canadian scientists: “major breakthrough” in cancer research


VANCOUVER, CANADA (BNO NEWS) – Canadian scientists on Wednesday said they have achieved an unprecedented breakthrough in breast cancer research, opening new doors to new breast cancer treatment targets and therapies.

For the first time ever, scientists at the B.C. Cancer Agency were able to decode all of the three billion letters in the DNA sequence of a metastatic lobular breast cancer tumor, a type of breast cancer which accounts for about 10 percent of all breast cancer cases. The scientists were able to find all the mutations, or “spelling” mistakes that caused the cancer to spread further.

The results of the study will be published on Thursday as the cover story in the prestigious international science journal “Nature.” It helps unlock the secrets of how cancer begins and spreads, the agency said, thus pointing the way to the development of new breast cancer treatment targets and therapies.

“One in nine women is expected to develop breast cancer, and breast cancer accounts for 29 percent of all cancer diagnoses for B.C. women,” said Canadian Health Services Minister Kevin Falcon. “As a result of the efforts of the scientists behind the study, this breakthrough finding gives further hope to the thousands of women with this terrible disease.”

“I never thought I would see this in my lifetime,” Dr. Samuel Aparicio, head of the breast cancer research program and research team leader at the B.C. Cancer Agency, said. “This is a watershed event in our ability to understand the causes of breast cancer and to develop personalized medicines for our patients. The number of doors that can now be opened to future research is considerable.”

Dr. Aparicio’s team at the B.C. Cancer Agency, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA), partnered with the Genome Sciences Centre. His team used the latest in next-generation DNA sequencing technology to study the evolution of a single patient’s lobular breast cancer tumor over a nine-year interval.

The group found 32 mutations in the metastatic cancer tumor and then looked to see how many of those same spelling mistakes were present in the original tumor, the agency said. The results showed that only five of the 32 could have been present in all of the cells of the primary tumor, making those the ones that started the disease in the first place. These five mutations were previously unknown to researchers as playing a role in the cancer.

“This study demonstrates the remarkable capacity of next-generation DNA sequencing technology,” said Dr. Marco Marra, director of the B.C. Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre. “The project that decoded the first human genome in 2001 took years and an enormous amount of funding. We were able [to] sequence the breast cancer genome in weeks and a fraction of the cost,” he added.

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