Annual Report 2013

Dr. Ulrike "Riki" Peters leads a regular meeting for local members of the genetics and epidemiology of colorectal cancer consortium.

DR. ULRIKE "RIKI" PETERS LEADS A REGULAR MEETING FOR LOCAL MEMBERS OF THE GENETICS AND EPIDEMIOLOGY OF COLORECTAL CANCER CONSORTIUM. Photo by Matt Hagen

Army of detectives discover colon cancer's genetic clues

Sifting through millions of genomes to find genetic clues as to why some people face a greater risk of colorectal cancer requires a team approach. In fact, it requires a small army.

That's why scores of researchers from Fred Hutch and 40 other institutions around the world have joined forces. Co-led by Drs. Ulrike "Riki" Peters and Li Hsu at Fred Hutch, the group recently identified variations in four genes linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.

The four genes – NABP, LAMC1, CCND2 and TBX3 – were not previously associated with colorectal cancer, and Peters and colleagues found variations among them can increase cancer risk by 10 to 40 percent.

The study drew from some 40,000 samples collected and evaluated by the Genetics and Epidemiology of Colorectal Cancer Consortium. The consortium's coordinating center is housed at Fred Hutch and Peters is its principal investigator.

Consortium members inside the Arnold building atrium on the Fred Hutch campus
CONSORTIUM MEMBERS INSIDE THE ARNOLD BUILDING ATRIUM ON THE FRED HUTCH CAMPUS Photo by Matt Hagen

The discovery could lead to new drug targets, or even help identify people at increased risk of colorectal cancer. Although colonoscopies are an effective screening tool, understanding exactly who is at the greatest risk of colorectal cancer can help physicians determine more precisely when to request a colonoscopy and how often it should be performed.

With the continued development of faster, less expensive DNA sequencing technologies, Peters said knowledge gleaned from studies like hers will have increasing value as more and more of the population's genomes are sequenced.

Peters and colleagues plan to build upon their discovery. Further study could yield hundreds more genetic variations linked to colon cancer risk.

"We want to bring in more partners. We will need to get bigger and bigger and will bring in about 40,000 more samples as part of our ongoing research. That's an important way we can understand more about the genetic risk factors for colorectal cancer," Peters said.

Dr. Ulrike Peters' research was made possible in part by support from the Nelda Kleinschmidt Estate.

DR. ULRIKE "RIKI" PETERS
DR. ULRIKE "RIKI" PETERS OF THE PUBLIC HEALTH SCIENCES DIVISION
Photo by Matt Hagen

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