A new international consortium working to uncover genes that lead to breast cancer in men has been launched at Queen’s University Belfast, Ireland; Dr. Nick Orr is the Lead Researcher for the consortium.
The new international consortium known as MERGE will discover and characterize new genetic risk factors for male breast cancer by analyzing DNA from 5,000 men. The DNA will be compared to that of 10,000 men without breast cancer, making it the largest study of its kind worldwide. By building a large international research resource for male breast cancer genetics, the MERGE team will develop a better understanding of the causes of breast cancer in men that may lead to new treatments for the disease.
Dr. Nick Orr from the Patrick G. Johnson Centre for Cancer Research at Queen’s is the Lead Researcher for the consortium. “We need to develop a better understanding of breast cancer in men in order to improve prevention, early detection and treatment,” says Orr. “Having access to the large resource provided by the MERGE consortium will enable us to develop a deeper insight into the genetics and pathology of this rare disease.”
Dr. Orr ‘s research has focused on investigating the contribution and mechanisms of action of inherited genetic variation to breast cancer risk in women and men. Complex traits, including susceptibility to most common types of cancer, are influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. “We characterize risk factors for breast cancer by utilizing data and biological materials collected from participants in the Breakthrough Generations Study and the Breakthrough Male Breast Cancer Study,” says Orr. “In particular, we aim to gain a better understanding of the etiology and biology of breast cancer by exploring gender-specific similarities and differences in the mechanisms by which inherited genetic variation influences risk of the disease.” Male breast cancer is a relatively rare disease that accounts for less than 1% of breast cancers diagnosed every year in the UK, equating to 400 new cases annually.
The MERGE initiative is led by Queen’s and Sapienza University of Rome and supported by the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Professor Laura Ottini from Sapienza University of Rome and co-lead researcher, says, “From our experience in male breast cancer research, we know how collaborative multidisciplinary efforts lead to increased understanding in the medical and scientific communities as well as the dissemination of information and awareness to the public. In this context, MERGE will provide a great opportunity for filling the knowledge gap concerning male breast cancer genetics and address unmet clinical need toward gender-specific risk prediction assessment.”
Dr. Kyle Thompson from Queen’s, who is also working on the project, added: “Over the three- year project, we aim to fully analyze DNA from 5000 men with breast cancer. By comparing the genomes of men with breast cancer to those of healthy men, we hope to identify new genetic variants that cause the disease. This knowledge could help to identify men at risk of developing breast cancer.”
It is only through international collaborations such as this, says Dr. Orr, that they will be better equipped to treat this rare type of cancer. The consortium will share the data gathered with their research groups and work together to make real progress in this area. “We also hope that this work will increase the visibility of male breast cancer and educate men about the risks,” says Dr. Orr. “And we hope this will encourage them to see their doctor if they have concerns about their health.”