The search for new genes for inherited bowel cancer

Aug 21 2014

By Dr Bente Talseth-Palmer 

When I talk to my son about his grandad in Norway I usually tell him that when it is day time here it is night time in Norway, and when it is night time here it is day time in Norway. So collaborating with someone in Norway literary means that the sun never sets on the research we perform. For a few years now, I have collaborated with A/Prof Wenche Sjursen at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway.

We both work on the genetics of inherited bowel cancer and met at a conference in Germany in 2009. A/Prof Sjursen was also my lecturer when I did my undergraduate degree in Trondheim, Norway in 1996-1999. In the field of medical genetics and cancer research, having a large enough sample size to observe true findings are crucial. So being part of and running collaboratory studies are vital so that our research will have an impact on patient outcome.   

In 2012 I was a collaborator on a grant application for a PhD student scholarship and project money that A/Prof Sjursen was successful in receiving. This resulted in me being a co-supervisor for the PhD student Maren Hansen, at NTNU in Norway. Maren and I work on very similar projects where we are searching for new genes causing inherited/familial bowel cancer utilising new high through-put technology which can sequence many genes at once or whole genomes if desirable.

The discovery of new genes affecting the risk of developing cancer will not only have implications for the families with an inherited form of bowel cancer but also for cancer patients in the general population as it could confer novel insight into new pathways for cancer development. Our collaboration has led to Maren deciding to bring her family to Australia for 3 months from November 2014 to January 2015, where she will be working in our laboratory at HMRI to learn our latest technology and include our samples in her work.

We are both running candidate gene panels and due to our collaboration we are able to double our sample sizes, which will increase the power of our studies – so that we have a higher chance of detecting new cancer causing genes that will aid in cancer prevention due to genetic testing and intensive surveillance that can be offered to the patients.   

*Bente Talseth-Palmer is Cancer Institute ECR Fellow in the School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy, The University of Newcastle