B.C. scientists discover breakthrough cancer mutation

The discovery demonstrates the value of multidisciplinary research

Cancer research took a leap forward Wednesday thanks to B.C. researchers who have discovered a crucial new cancer mutation.

Researchers at the B.C. Cancer Agency and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute found that a series of seemingly unrelated tumours all contained the same mutation — in a gene called DICER1.

The discovery suggests that treatments that target the mutation might be effective in treating several seemingly unrelated cancers.

The DICER1 gene is present in everyone and normally conducts a “huge array” of other genes in our cells, but with the mutant DICER1, “all havoc breaks loose,” explained David Huntsman, genetic pathologist and director of the Ovarian Cancer Program of B.C. at the B.C. Cancer Agency and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, who led the team alongside Gregg Morin, a lead scientist from the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre at the B.C. Cancer Agency.

Until now, most cancer treatments have been designed to target specific types of cancer, but the research team found the DICER1 mutation in certain ovarian, muscle, testicular, and uterine cancers, suggesting that those cancers might respond to a single treatment “across a range of cancers that no one ever thought of treating together,” said Huntsman.

A treatment that hits many birds with one stone could save time, resources and lives.

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“In B.C. we’re really rewriting the book of what cancer is,” said Huntsman, adding that the discovery demonstrates the value of multidisciplinary research.

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