IISc, Kidwai develop test to detect mutations in genes

Divya Ramamurthi

Bangalore: The Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) has developed a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) diagnostic test to detect mutations in genes that may be responsible for hereditary breast cancer.

Research done by Kumar Somasundaram's group at IISc found several mutations in a specific region of BRCA1, a gene found to be responsible for hereditary cancers. The group is investigating the effects of mutations in a select segment of BRCA1 in producing cancerous cells. The study is being conducted along with Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology.

"Identifying a specific segment in the long chain of amino acids will help us zone in on specific areas and study them in depth," Prof. Somasundaram said. He said that it makes it easier for the research group to check whether other people in the same family are at risk of developing cancer later or whether they are carriers of the mutations.

Prof. Somasundaram said that persons with mutations in either BRCA1 or BRCA2 (which is also a gene responsible for hereditary breast cancer) have greater chance of developing cancer.

He said the chances of them developing cancer is around 33 per cent to 50 per cent before 50 years and goes up to 56 per cent to 87 per cent for persons above 70 years.

The chances of a person developing sporadic breast cancer below the age of 80 is around 10 per cent, he added.

Every year, 80,000 new cases of breast cancer are being detected, making it one of the most prevalent forms of cancer among women. Although most of the cancers are sporadic in nature, around five per cent to 10 per cent are caused due to mutations in either BRCA1 or BRCA2.

Bapsy, Director of Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology, said that breast cancer cells are usually aggressive in Indians. The development of a PCR will help screen women at risk of cancer and also help detect and treat it in the early stages, she said.

She also said it is essential for women to get themselves screened for breast cancer periodically, especially if they have reached menopause. "The sooner they discover and treat it the better the chances of recovery," she added.