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DNA Helps Identify Genes that Drive Cancer


Friday 8 January 2010


A study of the role of DNA amplification in the development of human cancers has helped scientists uncover nine new cancer genes.


In the largest systematic review of its kind, published today in Nature Reviews Cancer, scientists at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, with funding from The Prostate Cancer Charity, examined over 800 reports of DNA amplification and identified 77 genes which are important to the development of cancer, nine of which had not previously been linked to tumour growth.


Human cancer genomes commonly have areas known as amplicons, which are segments of DNA that are repeated many 100’s of times and often contain several genes, one of which may cause tumour growth. The paper, which looked at reports of amplicons in cancer, used a new classification system to rank evidence of their tumour-promoting effects and identify them as cancer drivers. The results identified 26 genes that had significant evidence for amplification in breast cancer and two in prostate cancer.


The nine newly identified genes related to breast cancer (4), bladder cancer (1), gastric cancer (1) and glioblastoma (1). 


“This is a major piece of work,” commented article author, Professor Colin Cooper from the ICR. “Whilst many cancer genes are easy to detect because they carry clear genetic signatures, another large class of DNA alterations, known as amplicons, often contain multiple genes and therefore make it difficult to determine which are driving cancer genes and which are merely passengers. 


“By linking genome sequencing technologies with our new classification system we will hopefully be able to continue to identify more genes that contribute to the development of cancer.”


Most of the genes identified are in biological pathways already known to be involved in cancer development. However three of the new genes found, YWHAB, YWHAQ and CDC6 all appear to be in a pathway involved in the initial stages of replication of DNA, a pathway not previously identified in cancer.   


Contributing author, Professor Michael Stratton, from The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute commented; “We hope that this new classification system will provide us with another tool to interrogate the cancer genome, furthering our knowledge of what causes and drives cancer, and ultimately enabling scientists to develop new treatments for patients.’ 


ICR Media Contact: Lucy Duggan / 0207 153 5430 or after hours 077217 47900



Notes to editors:

This new study focuses on a review of the evidence for a certain type of genetic change - gene amplification - across a number of cancers. When amplification occurs in a tumour, cancer cells end up with too many copies of a gene. If this gene is involved in an important function in the cell, like controlling growth, then these extra copies can trigger cancer development or progression.


The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR)

  • The ICR is Europe’s leading cancer research centre
  • The ICR has been ranked the UK’s top academic research centre, based on the results of the Higher Education Funding Council’s Research Assessment Exercise
  • The ICR works closely with partner The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust to ensure patients immediately benefit from new research. Together the two organisations form the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Europe
  • The ICR has charitable status and relies on voluntary income, spending 95 pence in every pound of total income directly on research
  • As a college of the University of London, the ICR also provides postgraduate higher education of international distinction
  • Over its 100-year history, the ICR’s achievements include identifying the potential link between smoking and lung cancer which was subsequently confirmed, discovering that DNA damage is the basic cause of cancer and isolating more cancer-related genes than any other organisation in the world
  • The ICR is home to the world’s leading academic drug development team. Several important anti-cancer drugs used worldwide were synthesised at the ICR and it has discovered an average of two preclinical candidates each year over the past five years
  • For more information visit
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The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute 

The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which receives the majority of its funding from the Wellcome Trust, was founded in 1992 as the focus for UK sequencing efforts. The Institute is responsible for the completion of the sequence of approximately one-third of the human genome as well as genomes of model organisms such as mouse and zebrafish, and more than 90 pathogen genomes. The Institute is exploiting the wealth of genome data now available to answer important questions about health and disease. These programmes are built around a Faculty of more than 30 senior researchers.

The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending over £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.


The Prostate Cancer Charity

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in men in the UK. Every year in the UK 35,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. One man dies every hour of prostate cancer in the UK. The Prostate Cancer Charity is striving for a world where lives are no longer limited by prostate cancer. The Charity is fighting prostate cancer on every front - through research, support, information and campaigning.

If you have any queries about prostate cancer, call The Prostate Cancer Charity's confidential Helpline 0800 074 8383 which is staffed by specialist nurses and open from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday and Wednesdays from 7 - 9pm or visit

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