Early genetic cancer biomarkers reveal best treatment path

In treating cancer patients, a wide variety of options exists, and one of the hurdles for a physician is to determine which treatment is most suitable for each individual. And now a team at Berkeley Lab has devised a scoring system by which to make these decisions based on genetic factors.

The researchers, as published in the journal Nature Communications, based their scoring system on 14 genes that have shown to be overexpressed in many different types of cancer. Using these biomarkers, their test could determine at an early stage whether patients will respond to a certain type of treatment, be it chemotherapy or radiation.

The genes themselves are those that regulate cell division, specifically the location at which spindle fibers attach to pull the cell into two parts. Overexpression of these genes wreak havoc during division because there are more spots for the spindles to attach, and thus they pull in too many directions, lead author Gary Karpen explained.

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Armed with this knowledge and public datasets of tumor samples, they found 14 genes that were consistently overexpressed. And so they could also apply patient outcomes and the treatments used (or not used) to these gene “scores.”

There’s much more to be done to establish these links, but the Berkeley team plans to investigate the biomarkers further to improve confidence in their results.

"The history of cancer treatment is filled with overreaction," Karpen said. "It is part of the ethics of cancer treatment to err on the side of overtreatment, but these treatments have serious side effects associated with them. For some people, it may be causing more trouble than if the growth was left untreated."

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