HSPH awarded four-year, $10.5 million grant for research on genetic risk for breast cancer

October 15, 2010 — David Hunter, Dean for Academic Affairs and Vincent L. Gregory Professor in Cancer Prevention, is the contact principal investigator for a four-year, $10.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to continue studying the genetic and biological mechanisms that contribute to cancer. The new study aims to discover additional genetic variants associated with risk of breast cancer; characterize the function of variants discovered to date; and assess how these may interact with environmental factors and what their utility may be in predicting breast cancer risk — ideally leading to new insights that can eventually be translated into better ways of preventing and treating the disease. The grant brings together projects led by Doug Easton of the University of Cambridge, UK, John Quackenbush of the HSPH Department of Biostatistics, and Peter Kraft of the HSPH Departments of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and numerous colleagues.

Findings from previous genome-wide association studies have identified multiple genetic variants linked to breast cancer risk. The new study will merge data from 63,000 cases across multiple studies to assess consistency of results and validate the connection between these gene variants and the increased risk of disease. The researchers will also continue looking for more variants.

“The advent of genome-wide association technology permits us to find genetic variants associated with much smaller excess risk than the previous approaches that depended on gene-hunting in very high risk families,” said Hunter. “Each new genetic variant unambiguously associated with breast cancer offers a new window into mechanisms of breast cancer risk. It is possible that once we have found many more variants, then genetic risk may be incorporated into risk profiling to optimize other forms of risk reduction, for example mammography screening intervals.”

Read more about Hunter’s work:

Adding Common Genetic Variants to Breast Cancer Risk Models Offers Only Small Benefit (HSPH press release)

Newly Identified Genetic Variants Found to Increase Breast Cancer Risk (HSPH press release)

–Amy Roeder

illustration: Ida Floreak/Anne Hubbard