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Breast cancer risk gene discovery fast tracked by new technology

An international team of researchers led by the University of Melbourne has used new technology to fast track the discovery of a breast cancer risk gene and could assist in the discovery of other cancer genes.

Professor Melissa Southey of the Genetic Epidemiology Laboratory, Department of Pathology at the University of Melbourne, who led the study, said it was a significant discovery and the first breast cancer risk gene to be discovered using the latest genetic sequencing technology.

"The mutations in the newly identified gene XRCC2, although rare, explain another proportion of breast cancers that run in families where there is no known genetic cause and that particularly occur at an early age," she said.

"We identified this gene quite quickly using genetic technology called massively parallel sequencing, which enables sequencing of large amounts of human DNA at high speed.'

"Due to these results and our methodology we believe that further risk genes will be identified at a faster rate than before and potentially for other cancers such as colorectal and prostate cancers," she said.

Professor Southey said the discovery could help manage the risk of breast cancer for families with a strong history of the disease and no known genetic cause.

"This discovery will assist some families to determine individual risk and which family members are at high risk of contracting the disease," Professor Southey said.

"Unaffected relatives of people with a mutation in this gene could also be offered predictive testing, subsequent genetic counselling and ongoing clinical management on the basis of their mutation status.'

"People whose breast cancer is associated with XRCC2 mutations could also benefit from specific treatments that target the genetic fault," she said.

Currently, only about 30 per cent of the familial risk for breast cancer has been explained, leaving the substantial majority sti

Contact: Rebecca Scott
University of Melbourne

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