Long-Anticipated Gene Search Technique Is Now Powerfully Real

By Jeffrey Norris, Science Cafe | June 6, 2007

In the wake of national-headline-making reports about how inheriting particular bits of DNA can increase one's risk for diabetes and breast cancer, UCSF's John Witte, PhD, stands ready to try his hand at using a similar scientific strategy to track down genes that affect prostate cancer risk.

Better tools to gauge individual cancer risks could lead to saved lives. Individuals at high risk could be screened for cancer more often, and could take actions to lower their risk.

Cancer researchers have long probed human DNA to find variations in specific genes that contribute to cancer risk in individuals who inherit them. Now they are turning to a newer, comprehensive approach called a genome-wide association study -- GWAS for short.

Using GWASs, researchers are taking advantage of advances in technology and a growing knowledge of the human genetic code to search all human chromosomes for DNA variations that might affect disease risk.

Leading Prostate Cancer Genetics Expert
Witte has already led his share of more focused studies. He, like many other researchers, often studies "candidate" genes that encode proteins already known or suspected to play a role in biochemical processes that become altered in disease. In the last few years, he has published several papers which suggest that some of these DNA variations do indeed influence prostate cancer risk.

But for his newly proposed study, Witte is not limiting his gaze to genes already identified as plausibly playing a role in prostate cancer. "We're no longer putting our bets anywhere," he says. "We're going to look everywhere."

Read more at Jeffrey Norris, Science Cafe