Largest ever brain cancer study identifies 13 novel genetic errors

A multi-institutional group of researchers have published the results of the largest ever study of brain cancer. The study, led by researchers from The Institute of Cancer Research (London, UK) and published recently in Nature Genetics, has discovered a treasure trove of information about the genetic causes of glioma.

In this study, researchers conducted two genome-wide studies and combined the results with six previous studies in a meta-analysis, comprised 12,496 individuals with glioma and 18,190 individuals without.

The teams results uncovered 13 novel genetic errors associated with an increased risk of developing glioma, taking the total number of recognized errors up to 26. Of the 13 previously unknown genetic changes linked to glioma, one increased the risk of developing the disease by a third and the rest by at least 15% each.

The researchers believe their findings could be utilized to identify individuals at a high risk of developing the disease and may pave the way for novel methods of detection and treatment.

Study co-leader Richard Houlston from The Institute of Cancer Research commented: “Understanding the genetics of glioma in such detail allows us to start thinking about ways of identifying individuals at high inherited risk and will open up a search for new treatments that exploit our new knowledge of the biology of the disease.”

Furthermore, the researchers demonstrated that different sets of genes influence an individual’s risk of developing glioblastoma or non-glioblastoma, the two subtypes of glioma. For example, one of the DNA changes influencing activity of the gene HEATR3 was demonstrated to increase the risk of glioblastoma by 18% but it has a much smaller effect on the risk of developing non-glioblastoma.

Houlston concluded: “The changes in the way we think about glioma could be quite fundamental. So for example, what we thought of as two related sub-types of the disease turn out to have quite different genetic causes which may require different approaches to treatment.”

Sources: Melin B, Barnholtz-Sloan JS, Wrensch MR et al Genome-wide association study of glioma subtypes identifies specific differences in genetic susceptibility to glioblastoma and non-glioblastoma tumors. Nature Genetics; DOI: 10.1038/ng.3823 (2017); The Institute of Cancer Research press release