Public Release:  New throat cancer gene uncovered by UK and Japanese scientists

Researchers at King's College London and Hiroshima University, Japan, have identified a specific gene linked to throat cancer

King's College London

Researchers at King's College London and Hiroshima University, Japan, have identified a specific gene linked to throat cancer following a genetic study of a family with 10 members who have developed the condition.

The study, published today in American Journal of Human Genetics, uncovered a mutation in the ATR gene, demonstrating the first evidence of a link between abnormality in this gene and an inherited form of cancer. The researchers say this finding raises new ideas about genetic factors linked to throat cancer and provides a platform for exploring the role of ATR more generally in cancer biology.

Scientists carried out a genome-wide linkage study in a US family with an unusual hereditary condition affecting 24 members of the family over five generations. Characteristics include developmental abnormalities of hair, teeth and nails as well as dilated skin blood vessels. Strikingly, nearly every person with the condition involved in the study had developed throat cancer (oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma) in their 20s or 30s.

The team took blood samples from 13 members of the affected family, as well as samples from 13 unaffected people. After analysing these samples they found a single mutation in ATR was present in all the people with the condition, but none of the unaffected people had the mutation. Ten of the 13 people with the condition had developed throat cancer.

Professor John McGrath from the King's College London Genetic Skin Disease Group at St John's Institute of Dermatology, based at Guy's Hospital, said: 'This is an intriguing study which not only provides a genetic explanation for an unusual syndrome, but also provides a unique novel insight into how the ATR gene may be associated with a specific form of cancer. It is a classic example of how we can use rare conditions to give us insight into more common diseases.

'Key known risk factors for developing throat cancer include consumption of alcohol and tobacco as well as viral infections such as HPV (humanpapilloma virus). But this is the first evidence connecting abnormalities in the ATR gene with susceptibility to this type of cancer. We know that ATR encodes a protein critical to the way cells repair their DNA, and is therefore a vital mechanism. We now plan to investigate the cancer pathways in more detail to try to find new treatments.'

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CONTACT
Katherine Barnes
International Press Officer
King's College London
Tel: +44 207 848 3076
Email: katherine.barnes@kcl.ac.uk

Notes to editors

A copy of the paper 'Germline mutation in ATR in autosomal dominant oropharyngeal cancer syndrome' is available from the Press Office on request.

About King's College London (www.kcl.ac.uk)

King's College London is one of the top 30 universities in the world (2011/12 QS World University Rankings), and the fourth oldest in England. A research-led university based in the heart of London, King's has nearly 23,500 students (of whom more than 9,000 are graduate students) from nearly 140 countries, and some 6,000 employees. King's is in the second phase of a £1 billion redevelopment programme which is transforming its estate.

King's has an outstanding reputation for providing world-class teaching and cutting-edge research. In the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for British universities, 23 departments were ranked in the top quartile of British universities; over half of our academic staff work in departments that are in the top 10 per cent in the UK in their field and can thus be classed as world leading. The College is in the top seven UK universities for research earnings and has an overall annual income of nearly £450 million.

King's has a particularly distinguished reputation in the humanities, law, the sciences (including a wide range of health areas such as psychiatry, medicine, nursing and dentistry) and social sciences including international affairs. It has played a major role in many of the advances that have shaped modern life, such as the discovery of the structure of DNA and research that led to the development of radio, television, mobile phones and radar. It is the largest centre for the education of healthcare professionals in Europe; no university has more Medical Research Council Centres.

King's College London and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts are part of King's Health Partners. King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC) is a pioneering global collaboration between one of the world's leading research-led universities and three of London's most successful NHS Foundation Trusts, including leading teaching hospitals and comprehensive mental health services. For more information, visit: www.kingshealthpartners.org.

The College is in the midst of a five-year, £500 million fundraising campaign - World questions|King's answers - created to address some of the most pressing challenges facing humanity as quickly as feasible. The campaign's three priority areas are neuroscience and mental health, leadership and society, and cancer. More information about the campaign is available at www.kcl.ac.uk/kingsanswers.

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