Cancer Research UK funded scientists have discovered a mutation in a DNA repair gene which may increase the risk of developing meningioma, a rare type of brain tumour, according to new research published in the latest edition of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The researchers, based at The Institute of Cancer Research, explored 136 DNA repair genes before they homed in on a mutation in the gene BRIP1 – a gene also associated with increased breast cancer risk. This mutation may account for 16 per cent of meningiomas.

More than 7,500 people are diagnosed with malignant or benign brain tumours in the UK each year. Meninigiomas account for over 30 per cent of these, yet little is known about the cause of the disease which tends to affect older people, and women.

The vast majority of meningiomas are benign. They grow slowly in the tissues of the brain or spinal cord and as a result do not respond well to chemotherapy and cannot always be safely removed by surgery.

The new study examined genetic differences in the brains of 1,268 people from four European countries. Data from 631 patients with meningiomas was compared with 637 healthy individuals. Previous US research had analysed a small sample of just 200 people, making this is the largest study of gene involvement in meningioma risk.

Lead researcher, Professor Richard Houlston, based at The Institute of Cancer Research, said: “Using a large sample, we have identified a new region associated with meningioma risk. However, further investigation into the functions of BRIP1, could shed more light on the relationship between the gene and brain tumour growth.

“Currently, the only sure way to diagnose many brain tumours is by biopsy. Research like ours, which examines gene changes may offer the hope of non-invasive ways to diagnose the disease and new tailored treatments for brain cancer patients.”

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK’s director of cancer information, said: “Although meningioma is a rare condition, we welcome any insight that helps us to understand it further. This study has shown some very interesting results. However, further studies are needed to explain how additional changes in the BRIP1 gene may also contribute to the growth of these tumours.”


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Ninety percent of meningiomas are benign, 6% are atypical, and 2% are malignant. The word benign is misleading in this case as, when benign tumours grow and constrict the brain, they can cause disability and even be life threatening.

Cancer Research UK is also funding a series of genome-wide studies in other cancers because it hopes to identify people who are at increased risk of developing the disease and eventually prevent it from occurring. The first results from the breast and bowel cancer studies have already been announced.

The tendency of cancers to affect family groups cannot be wholly explained by rare, high-risk, inherited mutations. A substantial proportion of such cancers are thought to be attributable to the combined effects of multiple, common gene variants, known as polymorphisms, each of which is associated with a small increase in cancer risk. The search for these polymorphisms is being facilitated by the availability of the human genome sequence and the development of high-throughput single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) array technology, as used in this study.

About The Institute of Cancer Research

The Institute of Cancer Research is Europe’s leading cancer research centre with expert scientists working on cutting edge research. It was founded in 1909 to carry out research into the causes of cancer and to develop new strategies for its prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care. The Institute is a charity that relies on voluntary income. The Institute is one of the world’s most cost-effective major cancer research organisations with over 90p in every £ directly supporting research.

About Cancer Research UK

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