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Pioneering research reveals new genetic errors that lead to an inherited risk of developing glioma

Scientists from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) have discovered 13 new genetic errors related with an increased risk of developing glioma in one of the largest ever studies of this devastating disease

The study from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) doubles the total number of genetic changes associated with risk of glioma, taking it up to 26.

One of the genetic changes increases risk by as much as a third and the others by at least 15 per cent each. This new understanding could be used to pick out those who may be at a substantially increased risk of developing the disease.

Gliomas are the most common type of brain tumour, accounting for around 40 per cent of all cases. Currently there is no reliable way of detecting the disease early and existing treatments show very little benefit for those affected.

This research reveals a wealth of new information about what predisposes a person to glioma and in the future could allow doctors to identify a subset of people who may be at risk and lead to the discovery of much needed targeted drugs.

Study co-leader Professor Richard Houlston, Professor of Molecular and Population Genetics at The ICR said, “It’s been exciting to have been involved in such a gigantic study including cases of brain cancer from all over the world. We’ve uncovered a treasure trove of new information about the genetic causes of glioma brain cancers.

“Understanding the genetics of glioma in such detail allows us to start thinking about ways of identifying people at high inherited risk, and will open up a search for new treatments that exploit our new knowledge of the biology of the disease.

“The changes in the way we think about glioma could be quite fundamental. So for example, what we thought of as two related sub-types of the disease turn out to have quite different genetic causes which may require different approaches to treatment.”

The study has been published today in the journal, Nature Genetics.

The researchers carried out two new genome-wide studies and combined the results with six previous studies involving in total 12,496 cases of glioma and 18,190 people without the disease. The immense size of the study meant it was able to accurately detect 13 previously unknown genetic changes that increased risk of glioma. These changes were found to affect a variety of cell functions including nerve cell division, DNA repair, cell cycle control, protein production and inflammation.

The scientists at ICR, along with their colleagues in Europe and the US, have also found that different sets of genes influence a person’s risk of developing the two subtypes of glioma – glioblastoma and non-glioblastoma.

As well as identifying new genetic changes, this international discovery team generated even stronger evidence for the roles of DNA errors in the genes they previously identified as being associated with glioma and other cancers.

David Jenkinson, Chief Scientific Officer at The Brain Tumour Charity, said, “Glioma strikes people of all ages and across all walks of life with devastating consequences. It is a disease that kills more adults under 40 than any other form of cancer.

“The findings announced today will help us begin to answer the question that so many people ask when they are diagnosed with a brain tumour: ‘Why me?’

“It is an exciting breakthrough with huge potential to improve the identification of those at risk as well as the treatment of glioma, which will bring hope to the many thousands of people around the world with personal experience of its impact on patients and their families.”