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Brain Cancer Linked to Inherited Genetic Risk

By Jeffrey Norris, UCSF Science Cafe | July 6, 2009

UCSF scientists have discovered commonly inherited genetic risks for the deadliest types of brain tumors, marking the first time such a link has been definitively established.

At least 20 percent of these advanced brain cancers may be attributable to the newly discovered genetic risks, according to UCSF scientists led by genetic epidemiologists Margaret Wrensch, PhD, Jeffrey Chang, MD, PhD, and John Wiencke, PhD. Their study appears in the July 5 online edition of the scientific journal Nature Genetics.

"These results clearly indicate that genetic susceptibility is an important risk factor for this disease," Wrensch says.

Wiencke, Wrensch and Chang, a postdoctoral fellow, studied high-grade brain tumors known as gliomas, more specifically glioblastomas and anaplastic astrocytomas. These forms account for about three-quarters of all malignant brain tumors.

Wrensch has searched for brain tumor risks for more than 20 years, heading up the San Francisco Adult Glioma Study and, more recently, leading a UCSF project in a multidisciplinary brain tumor research initiative funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

"Now that we have identified these solid risk factors, it opens up new areas of research," she says. Follow-up research is expected to shed light on biological mechanisms of brain cancer risk, about which relatively little is known.

The only previously confirmed risks for the disease include exposure to high-dose radiation or rare familial syndromes, neither of which accounts for many cases of the disease, Wrensch notes.

Read more at Jeffrey Norris, UCSF Science Cafe