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Researchers discover common markers of tumour hypoxia across 19 cancer types

Jan 14, 2019

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Landmark study analyzes mutation signatures of low oxygen in more than 8,000 tumours

Unlike healthy tissues, tumours thrive in low-oxygen environments, often acquiring the ability to resist treatment and spread to other sites in the body. Despite being a well-known cause of therapy resistance and metastasis, the impact of low oxygen, known as hypoxia, on tumour cells is poorly understood. As reported today in Nature Genetics, researchers have discovered molecular hallmarks of hypoxia in the first-ever pan-cancer analysis of low oxygen in human tumours, with a special focus on prostate cancer.

The study investigated more than 8,000 human tumours across 19 different cancer types. The authors discovered common markers of hypoxia that could help predict cancer aggressiveness and inform treatment decisions.

“This is an important large-scale study that involved collaborators across many locations and analyzed the genes from a broad range of tumour types,” said Dr. Stan Liu, a radiation oncologist at Sunnybrook and author on the study. “It confirms what’s been known about low oxygen tumours and helps us further understand that because of hypoxia, there’s a loss of tumour suppressor genes, an activation of oncogenes (genes with the potential to cause cancer) and many alterations to the messenger and microRNA that control protein production. Understanding these common traits will be important in the personalization of cancer diagnosis and treatment.”

Read more about this study

Behind the Research: using genetics to unmask the mysteries of cancer (a Q and A with researcher Dr. Stan Liu)