Genetic differences revealed by SNPS play a role in risk, prevention and outcome for cancer

September 12, 2003

Roughly 99.9 percent of your genetic makeup is identical to every other human being, which makes the remaining tenth of a percent all the more interesting. As a result, scientists around the world are feverishly hunting through this tiny fraction of biomolecular material to find out what separates one individual from the next, including why some or more susceptible to specific diseases or conditions than their neighbors.

The quarry for this chase is collectively known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, SNPs. Commonly referred to as "snips," they are considered the most common alteration found in our hereditary makeup, far exceeding the better-known genetic miscue, the mutation.

Tracking down and isolating SNPs, some believe, is tantamount to locating a holy grail for the study of human disease. Unlocking their mysteries not only would help explain why some individuals are at greater risk for disease, but also what drugs might be tailored to each person for prevention and treatment of specific ailments, such as cancer.

"With SNPs, we are beginning to isolate key genetic differences among individuals, with the hope of applying that knowledge so we can develop new and more rational approaches to the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer," said Timothy Rebbeck, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.

Dr. Rebbeck is program chair of "SNPs, Haplotype, and Cancer: Application in Molecular Epidemiology," sponsored by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), taking place September 13-17 in Key Biscayne, Fla. The meeting is bringing together an international group of scientists from a variety of disciplines to discuss the latest methods in the field as it relates to cancer.

"Since cancer is such a complex disease, based on numerous genetic and signaling miscues, these studies also may provide one of the best tools for understanding its etiology," said Dr. Rebbeck.

Studies presented at this special conference include genetic predictors for:

Dr. Rebbeck cautioned that scientists are just starting to scratch the surface of what's possible for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, with the help of SNPs and haplotypes.

But the number of abstracts and scientists attending SNPs conferences, such as the one in Key Biscayne, underscore that the field is beginning to attract greater attention in the United States and overseas.

"The challenge we now face is how to translate the vast amount of information about the human genome to improve human health," said Dr. Rebbeck. "This conference represents an important next step in helping to achieve that goal."

American Association for Cancer Research

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