Important gene discovery helps find those most at risk of common cancer

17 Jan 2019

Image: © auremar/

Researchers in the US have identified a specific gene that could help us quickly find patients at high risk for prostate cancer to spread.

When someone with prostate cancer is presenting themselves to a doctor, they can be told how advanced a tumour is. However, following a major genetics breakthrough, it may now also be possible to say whether it is likely to spread.

Publishing its findings to Nature Communications, a team from Rutgers University in the US revealed it has identified a specific gene in cancerous prostate tumours that reveals when a patient is at high risk of it spreading further.

The gene, NSD2, was identified using an artificial intelligence algorithm trained to determine which cancer genes that spread in a mouse model were most relevant to humans. By turning off this cell in the mice tumour cells, the team was amazed to see that the cancer’s spread decreased significantly.

“If we can determine whether a patient’s cancer is likely to spread at the time of diagnosis, we can start them on a targeted treatment plan as soon as possible to decrease the likelihood of their cancer spreading,” said lead author of the study, Antonina Mitrofanova.

Mitrofanova said that her and the rest of the team are now collaborating on a potential drug to target NSD2. In the meantime, they are encouraging doctors to begin incorporating NDS2 screening into their practice so that they can start high-risk patients on anti-metastatic treatment as soon as possible.

Looking elsewhere to the future, Mitrofanova said that the same algorithm used to identify NDS2 can also be applied more broadly to study other cancers, to better understand what findings can be translated to people.

According to the Irish Cancer Society, prostate cancer is the second most diagnosed form of cancer in Ireland, behind skin cancer and ahead of breast cancer.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic