Researchers pinpoint key regulatory role of noncoding genes in prostate cancer development

Principal investigator Hansen He says the findings published online today in Nature Genetics show how these genes — known as “noncoding RNA” — function in activating the disease process. Dr. He, an epigeneticist, is a Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network. He is also Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Biophysics, University of Toronto.

“Our research looked at genetic variations associated with prostate cancer and found that about half of these variations may function through noncoding genes rather than the protein-coding genes. In other words, we have discovered that noncoding RNA has a very important function in driving prostate cancer development and disease progression.”

Dr. He says: “In prostate cancer there are more than 100 known risk regions associated with the development and progression of the disease, but for most of them we don’t know how. In our work, we found that half those risk regions may function through noncoding genes.”

Dr. He says that integrating this new knowledge about genetic variations and the function of noncoding RNA moves the science closer to developing a clinical biomarker to advance personalized cancer medicine for patients by being able to predict who will develop prostate cancer and whether or not it will be aggressive.

The research team collaborated with the Princess Margaret Genome Centre and delved further into the genetic variations associated with noncoding RNA PCAT1, which is already known to be highly expressed in prostate cancer patients, to zero in on how the noncoding genes function.

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