Updated: Friday, 10th July 2020 @ 7:36am

Cancer plot twist? 400 DNA 'blind spots' could be next chapter in battle, claim Manchester scientists

Cancer plot twist? 400 DNA 'blind spots' could be next chapter in battle, claim Manchester scientists

| By Becky Martin

More than 400 ‘blind spots’ in DNA could hide cancer-causing gene faults, Manchester Cancer Research scientists revealed today in a new study.

Researchers have discovered faults hidden in areas that are difficult for gene-reading technology to decode.

The team is from the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, and the 400 blind spots they found in the genes were hidden in very repetitive DNA areas which perplex the gene-reading technology. 

The technique, which unravels cancer’s genetic blueprint, is an important part of the research that scientists carry out to understand more about the disease’s biology.

Researchers hope by finding ways to unlock these blind spots in the future it will help scientists to understand these mistakes and workout whether or not they lead to cancer.

This could be a step towards developing tests to spot cancers earlier or provide new tactics for discovering future cancer treatments.

This problem reading the genes could conceal mistakes which might play a vital role in cancer.

The team compared two giant gene databases made from cancer cells grown in labs and cross-checked all the genes, which are known to be or are likely to be involved in cancer, to unearth the problem areas.

Lead researcher Andrew Hudson, at The University of Manchester’s Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, said: “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.”

Nell Barrie, Cancer Research UK’s senior science information manager, said: “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.” 

The University of Manchester, including the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute, joined forces with Cancer Research UK and The Christie NHS Foundation Trust to form the Manchester Cancer Research Centre.

This allows doctors and scientists to work closely together to turn scientific advances into patient benefits sooner.

Today’s publication is the Hudson et al. Discrepancies in Cancer Genomic Sequencing Highlight Opportunities for Driver Mutation Discovery

Image courtesy of Randy Montoya, via Sandia Labs, with thanks.