Research reveals genetic links to rare cancer

Sean Grimmond An Australian-led international research effort has revealed that genetic changes normally linked to breast, colon and ovarian cancers could also drive a rare form of pancreatic cancer.

Researchers found as many as one in five patients with pancreatic neuroendocrine tumours (PanNETs) had a clear genetic predisposition for their cancers, even though they had no family history of the disease.

University of Melbourne Bertalli Chair in Cancer Medicine Professor Sean Grimmond co-lead the study that included researchers at the University of Melbourne, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, the University of Queensland and the Children’s Medical Research Institute, as well as European and US teams.

Professor Grimmond said researchers were surprised to find striking similarities between the genetic drivers of PanNETs and other cancers.

“We found that the MUTYH and BRCA2 gene mutations, normally associated with colon and breast cancers, also appear to play an important role in PanNETs,” he said.

“This raises exciting possibilities for how we treat this disease in the future.”

This project is the latest Australian contribution to International Cancer Genome Consortium, a global research effort focused on mapping out the genetic landscape, causal mutations and novel therapeutic opportunities in the 50 most common cancer types across the globe.

The findings, published in the journal Nature, offer the prospect of one day being able to identify people at risk of these cancers, as well as aggressive forms of the disease, and who might respond to current or new, targeted therapies.

The Bertalli Chair in Cancer Medicine was made possible by the generosity of Neville and Diana Bertolli and forms part of Believe – the Campaign for the University of Melbourne.