DNA ‘blind spots’ that may be hiding cancer-causing genetic faults are revealed

Researchers from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute (UK) have discovered over 400 ‘blind spots’ in human DNA molecules. The findings, published recently in Cancer Research, suggest that these ‘blind spots’ could be hiding cancer-causing genetic mistakes.

The team uncovered hidden genetic mistakes in areas where gene-reading technology struggled to decode the sequence.

They compared two cancer gene databases and cross-checked all of the genes that are known – or are likely to be – involved in cancer. Over 400 blind spots in the genes were revealed to be hidden in repetitive areas of DNA, causing the gene-reading technology to struggle.

This difficulty in genetic decoding could result in the concealment of genetic faults which might play a vital role in cancer.

Andrew Hudson, lead researcher at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, commented: “The genes behind cancer are like a story. While we’ve been able to read most of the book using gene-reading technology, the limits of these tools mean some pages are missing.”

“These pages could just be unimportant filler, but we wonder if they might hold important twists in the plot which could affect our understanding of cancer. The next step in our work will be to find a way to open up these areas to help piece together the full story.”

Cancer Research UK’s senior science information manager, Nell Barrie, also commented: “We’re at an unprecedented point in cancer research. As research accelerates we’re revealing more and more about cancer’s secrets and central to this is our better understanding of how genetic changes drive the disease.”

“By delving deeper into cancer’s genetic origins we can spot the ways the disease is triggered and develops. This could help us to tackle it from the root, giving more cancer patients a chance at surviving the disease.”

Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute and The University of Manchester have recently joined forces with Cancer Research UK and The Christie NHS Foundation Trust to form the Manchester Cancer Research Centre. Their aim is to enable doctors and scientists to work closely together to translate cancer research into clinical practice sooner. Their work on cancer genetics is set to continue.

By finding new ways to discover these ‘blind spots’ in the future, the team at Cancer Research UK hope that we will gain a better understanding of whether these genetic mistakes lead to cancer. This could be a vital step towards developing diagnostic tests to identify cancers earlier or towards developing new strategies in cancer drug development.

Source: Cancer Research UK press release