Researchers in Australia have cast new light on the factors that trigger a third of oesophageal tumours, the fastest rising cancer in the country.

The Queensland team have identified sudden “chromosomal catastrophes” and will now carry out work to discover what triggers the events. The study involved scientists from QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, The University of Queensland (UQ) School of Medicine and UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB). 
Dr Nic Waddell, who co-led the study, said the research was based on genome-wide sequencing of 22 patients with oesophageal adenocarcinoma (OAC) from three Brisbane hospitals. 
He said: “In 32% of patients there had been a catastrophic event that damaged the DNA which resulted in highly mutated and rearranged genomes, and we confirmed this finding in another 101 patients.

“In all patients there was evidence of genetic scarring or ‘footprints’ of damage to the DNA in the tumour cells. 
“These findings have given us an important clue as to how these tumours might have eventuated.” 
Dr Andrew Barbour, of UQ School of Medicine, said OAC had one of the poorest outlooks of all solid tumours, with only 14 per cent of patients surviving five years. 
He said: “Removing the tumour is their best hope, but fewer than 50% of patients are diagnosed early enough for surgery.”

The team says that the most significant risk factor was the pre-malignant lesion known as Barrett’s oesophagus. Patients with Barrett’s are routinely monitored for development of malignant tumours but reflux, smoking and obesity are other risk factors, and men account for eight in every nine OAC cases. Dr Barbour said: “The number of patients diagnosed with oesophageal cancer has doubled in the past 20 years and is expected to double again in the next two decades.”
The study was funded by the NHMRC and follows a study by Australia’s major OAC scientists in a Centre of Research Excellence at QIMR Berghofer, where Dr Waddell is now based.

Understanding sudden deaths

Researchers in America have captured images of  complex proteins thought to be at fault in some cases of sudden cardiac death. The images secured by a team at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine  reveal the connection between some genetic mutations and electrical abnormalities of the heart, deepening understanding of the causes of the fatal attacks.

China expansion

US firm Akers Biosciences, a  designer and manufacturer of rapid diagnostic screening and testing products, has signed a Joint Venture Agreement with Hainan Savy Investment Management Ltd. The deal means that they will research, develop, produce and sell Akers’ products in China. The Joint Venture Company will be located in Haikou, the capital city of the province of Hainan, China, and is incorporated as Hainan Savy Akers Biosciences, Ltd.

Pioneering scientists receive awards

Horizon has announced that two scientists working on one of its projects have received Breakthrough Prizes. The prizes, created two years ago, went to Dr Emmanuelle Charpentier, a member of Horizon’s Scientific Advisory Board, and Dr Jennifer Doudna at a ceremony in California, United States. Together they worked on unravelling the mystery of a microbial defence mechanism called Crispr/Cas9 that protects bacteria from invading viruses.

Accolade for professor

Professor Adele Green, a skin cancer expert in Australia, has been named Person of the Year by Brisbane magazine bmag. Professor Green heads up the Cancer and Population Studies Group at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and has worked in skin cancer and melanoma research for more than 20 years. 
She was the first to establish the role sunscreen plays in the prevention of skin cancer.