[ Back to EurekAlert! ] Public release date: 4-Mar-2013
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Contact: Rachel Barson
r.barson@leeds.ac.uk
01-133-432-060
University of Leeds

First evidence that obesity gene is risk factor for melanoma

The research shows that people with particular variations in a stretch of DNA within the FTO gene, called intron 8, could be at greater risk of developing melanoma.

Variations in a different part of the FTO gene, called intron 1, are already known to be the most important genetic risk factor for obesity and overeating. These variants are linked to Body Mass Index (BMI) a measure of a person's shape based on their weight and height. Having a high BMI can increase the risk of various diseases including type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, womb (endometrial) cancer and more.

But this research is the first to reveal that the gene affects a disease melanoma which isn't linked to obesity and BMI.

The results, published in Nature Genetics, suggest that FTO has a more wide-ranging role than previously suspected, with different sections of the gene being involved in various diseases.

Study author, Dr Mark Iles, Cancer Research UK scientist at the University of Leeds, said: "This is the first time to our knowledge that this major obesity gene, already linked to multiple illnesses, has been linked to melanoma. This raises the question whether future research will reveal that the gene has a role in even more diseases?

"When scientists have tried to understand how the FTO gene behaves, so far they've only examined its role in metabolism and appetite. But it's now clear we don't know enough about what this intriguing gene does.

"This reveals a hot new lead for research into both obesity-related illnesses and skin cancer."

The researchers examined tumour samples in more than 13,000 melanoma patients and almost 60,000 unaffected people from around the world.

Malignant melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK with around 12,800 new cases and around 2,200 deaths each year.

Dr Julie Sharp, Cancer Research UK's senior science information manager, said: "These are fascinating early findings that, if confirmed in further research, could potentially provide new targets for the development of drugs to treat melanoma.

"Advances in understanding more about the molecules driving skin cancer have already enabled us to develop important new skin cancer drugs that will make a real difference for patients.

"But it doesn't detract from the importance of reducing your risk of the disease by enjoying the sun safely on winter breaks abroad and avoiding sunbeds. Getting a painful sunburn just once every two years can triple the risk of melanoma."

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For more information

Dr Mark Iles is available for interview. Contact: Rachel Barson, Press Officer, University of Leeds, T: +44 113 343 2060 or E: r.barson@leeds.ac.uk

Iles, M et al. A variant in FTO shows association with melanoma risk not due to BMI (2013) Nature Genetics

University of Leeds

One of the UK's largest medical, health and bioscience research bases, the University of Leeds delivers world leading research in medical engineering, cancer, cardiovascular studies, epidemiology, molecular genetics, musculoskeletal medicine, dentistry, psychology and applied health. Treatments and initiatives developed in Leeds are transforming the lives of people worldwide with conditions such as diabetes, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. www.leeds.ac.uk

Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK is the world's leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research
  • The charity's pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
  • Cancer Research UK receives no government funding for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival rates in the UK double in the last forty years.
  • Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.



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