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One Person's Junk Is Another Person's Cancer Biomarker

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A group of researchers at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech have developed a new technology to study biomarkers in so-called "junk DNA" that can distinguish cancer patients from healthy people, says Highlight Health's Walter Jessen. The study, published in Genes, Chromosomes and Cancer, describes the work, and the researchers say the new technology could one day serve as the basis for a cancer prognosis test, Jessen adds. In December, VBI researchers discovered a four-nucleotide repeat in the ESRRG gene which could help a clinician determine a patient's risk for breast cancer. This repeat was more likely to be present in breast cancer patients in longer sequences than in healthy individuals, Jessen says, adding, "patients with a greater number of copies of the repeat in the promoter region of the ESRRG gene have a 3-fold higher cancer susceptibility rate than those who do not." In the latest study, the research team created a design for a new DNA microarray that measures the more than two million microsatellites in the human genome in one experiments, Jessen says. What the team found was a pattern of 18 specific microsatellite families present in germline and tumor DNA from breast cancer patients, but not in the DNA of healthy people. "These 18 pattern-specific microsatellite families suggest a new mechanism disrupting the genome in cancer patients and may represent a new breast cancer risk biomarker," Jessen says.

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