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Genetics of cancer: Non-coding DNA can finally be decoded
Date:7/23/2014

Cancer is a disease of the genome resulting from a combination of genetic modifications (or mutations). We inherit from our parents strong or weak predispositions to developing certain kinds of cancer; in addition, we also accumulate new mutations in our cells throughout our lifetime. Although the genetic origins of cancers have been studied for a long time, researchers were not able to measure the role of non-coding regions of the genome until now. A team of geneticists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE), by studying tissues from patients suffering from colorectal cancer, have succeeded in decoding this unexplored, but crucial, part of our genome. Their results can be found in Nature.

To better understand how cancer develops, scientists strive to identify genetic factors - whether hereditary or acquired - that could serve as the catalyst or trigger for tumor progression. Until now, the genetic basis of cancers had only been examined in the coding regions of the genome, which constitutes only 2% of it. However, as recent scientific advances have shown, the other 98% is far from inactive: it includes elements that serve to regulate gene expression, and therefore should play a major role in the development of cancer.

In order to better understand this role, Louis-Jeantet professor Emmanouil Dermitzakis and his team, from the Department of Genetic and Developmental Medicine in UNIGE's Faculty of Medicine, studied colorectal cancer, one of the most common and most deadly cancers. Indeed, each year, one million new cases are detected around the world, and for almost half of these patients, the disease will prove fatal. Using genome sequencing technology, the UNIGE geneticists compared the RNA between healthy tissue and tumor tissue from 103 patients, searching for regulatory elements present in the vast, non-coding portion of the genome that impact the development of colorectal cancer. The goal was to identify the effect, present only in cancerous
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Contact: Emmanouil Dermitzakis
emmanouil.dermitzakis@unige.ch
Universit de Genve
Source:Eurekalert

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