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Discovery Links Genes to Pancreatic Cancer
Date:1/25/2010

analyzing genes in close to 4,000 people with pancreatic cancer and an equivalent number of people without the disease, the investigators identified three genetic regions associated with a greater risk for the cancer.

Combined with previous work, the discovery gives scientists four particular areas of interest in understanding the disease.

The first genetic location plays an important role in ABO blood types, something scientists had suspected even before the genetic connection was made.

The second location is in a region of chromosome 5 that harbors a gene important for telomeres, structures at the end of chromosomes that get shorter each time a cell divides.

"The telomerase gene has already been identified in lung cancer, brain cancer, skin cancer and leukemia, and it's associated with a rare lung disease and blood disorders," Chanock said. "This seems to be pointing toward a 'soft spot' in the human genome -- that there's something about genetic variation in that region that can predispose toward a number of different diseases."

The question now is why someone with this predisposition would develop lung cancer rather than skin cancer, and that's where environmental cues probably come into play, Chanock said.

The other two regions -- on chromosomes 1 and 13 -- are "enigmatic," Chanock said. "They are new places we'd never thought of in pancreatic or any type of cancer."

Dr. Michael Hall, director of the gastrointestinal cancer risk assessment program at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, described the study as "a monumental effort to gather this many samples."

"The findings were very consistent and, I think, very believable," Hall said. "The next question becomes what do you do with that information. Once this starts to get meshed together with what other people have found, the impact is going to be greater."

And as Chanock explained, researchers now are faced with the
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