Genetic scientists have developed a technology that shows how genes in healthy stomach cells are altered when they become cancerous, offering the prospect of changing the way the stomach cancer is diagnosed and managed.

The study, reported in the scientific journal, Nature Communications, overcame the problem that large amounts of DNA are needed for current methods to investigate certain features of cancerous stomach cells.

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The new technique overcame the problem that large amounts of DNA are needed for current methods to investigate certain features of cancerous stomach cells.

Study of the same laboratory reactions was achieved with much smaller amounts of DNA by the team from the Genome Institute of Singapore, led by Prof. Patrick Tan.

Prof. Tan, principal investigator of a cancer laboratory at the institute, says the work is part of a wider trend in the ever-better efficiency of genome science: “Due to quantum leaps in the scale and throughput of DNA and biocomputing technologies, complete human genomes can now be sequenced in only a few days, at a very low cost.” He continues:

“Compare this: the original human genome project, which was completed in the early 2000s, required billions of dollars and hundreds of researchers. Today, thousands of tumors can be sequenced, analysed and shared by relatively small academic laboratories.”

The results from the Singapore team to improve the efficiency of investigating oncological genetics have attracted the praise of a cancer genetics expert in Japan.

“This study addresses one of today’s most perplexing questions in cancer research – why some cancers have no, or a limited number of, cancer-causing mutations,” says Prof. Toshikazu Ushijima, head of epigenomics at the National Cancer Center Research Institute in Tokyo.

Prof. Ushijima continues:

Using a highly-advanced analytical method developed in Singapore, the researchers demonstrated that embryonic genes are regenerated in cancer cells.

The phenomenon itself may change the way we analyse cancer cells, and the list of regenerated genes may contain novel therapeutic targets.”

The findings could have implications across medicine, in addition to helping to unravel a specific question about stomach cancer rates across world regions, according to Prof. Ng Huck Hui, executive director of Genome Institute of Singapore.

“There are several types of cancer that occur more frequently in Asia than in the West,” Prof. Huck Hui says. “These include stomach and liver cancer. Comparatively little is known about the underlying biology of these Asian cancers. Reflecting the lack of understanding, these cancers typically have a very poor prognosis.

“Hence, there is this urgent need for us to apply the latest scientific techniques to develop better ways to diagnose and treat Asian cancers.”

Prof. Huck Hui adds:

What is even more promising about this important work by Prof. Tan and his team is that the technology used here can also be broadly applied to other disease domains and pathologic conditions, since epigenomic changes occur in all human diseases.”

Other recent research has added to the hope for effective treatment of stomach cancer – see “Stomach and colorectal cancers may be treatable with existing drug.”