An international team studying breast cancer might unlock new ways of treating and preventing the disease. According to Professor Mike Stratton, the director of the Sanger Institute in Cambridge which led the study, the research was “milestone” in cancer research. Cancer Research UK has said the findings are an important stepping -stone to new drugs for treating cancer.

He told the BBC: “There are about 20,000 genes in the human genome. It turns out, now we have this complete view of breast cancer – there are 93 of those [genes] that if mutated will convert a normal breast cell into a breast cancer cell. That is an important piece of information.

“We hand that list over to the universities, the pharmaceuticals, the biotech companies to start developing new drugs because those mutated genes and their proteins are targets for new therapeutics. There are now many drugs that have been developed over the last 15 years against such targets which we know work.”

The international team looked at all 3 billion letters of people’s genetic code – their entire blueprint of life – in 560 breast cancers. They uncovered 93 sets of instructions, or genes that if mutated, can cause tumors. Some have been discovered before, but scientists expect this to be the definitive list, barring a few rare mutations.

Prof Stratton expects new drugs will still take at least a decade to reach patients and warns: “Cancers are devious beasts and they work out ways of developing resistance to new therapeutics so overall I’m optimistic, but it’s a tempered optimism.”

Author: Ope Adedeji