A new look at genes that cause testicular cancer
21 April 2005
Testicular cancer in Australia is spreading faster than the cane toad – since 1970, its incidence in Australian blokes has doubled, while rates of other types of cancer have stayed the same.
This is alarming news for thousands of young Australian men under the age of 35 who are most commonly affected by this type of cancer.
However, scientists at The University of Queensland's Institute for Molecular Bioscience are gaining valuable insights into the genetic mechanisms contributing to this startling rise in testicular cancer thanks to $625,000 of additional support from the Queensland government presented yesterday (20/04/05).
Professor Peter Koopman, head of the Brisbane node of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence in Biotechnology and Development blamed not only the environment but genes as well.
"After completing a major survey of genes most commonly affected in patients with testicular cancer we found that 76% of these key susceptibility genes are active during the critical phase development of the germ cells – the cells that eventually form sperm," Professor Koopman said.
"The results are extraordinary for two reasons. First, it is concrete proof of the link between cancer and normal embryonic development. Second, it may mean that our susceptibility to testicular cancer is sealed from a very early stage indeed."
Among the known risk factors for developing testicular germ cell cancer, genetic predisposition is a key component. To date, over 80 different genes have been found to be defective in tumour samples taken from patients with this disease.
Professor Koopman's team used state of the art technology, funded by the Queensland State Government, The University of Queensland and the Australian Research Council, to survey gene activity at various stages of testicular development.
According to Professor Koopman the technique, known as microarray technology, represents "the Hubble telescope of molecular genetics allowing us to look at vast numbers of genes whose activity was previously too dim to see."
The next step is to investigate the function of these genes which may ultimately assist with early diagnosis, and improved treatment strategies that will benefit patients with testicular germ cell cancer.
"Certainly, we will now be able to study what these genes do in the embryo and how they do it, and so gain unprecedented insight into what goes wrong in a cancer cell," he said.