University of Michigan researchers have developed a method to detect mutations which give rise to colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer type, and the second most common cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Although most cases occur sporadically, some 5 to 10% of cases are hereditary, the most common cause of which is Lynch syndrome. Lynch syndrome results in an 80% increase in the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer. Those with a family history of colorectal cancer are advised to start screening before age 45. However, genetic testing for cancer risk does not always provide useful information for those with family history.
To address this, a new method of genetic testing was developed by Jacob Kitzman, PhD, of the Department of Human Genetics at Michigan Medicine plus together with other colleagues. Since mutations are rare in the human population, determining which one is responsible is difficult, and simply studying one in the lab is too time consuming to be practical.
With deep mutational scanning, the researchers measured the effect of MSH2 mutations, which is one major cause of Lynch syndrome
They deleted the normal copy of MSH2 from human cells with CRISPR-Cas, replacing it with a library of every possible mutation in the MSH2 gene. Each cell in the mix then carried a unique MSH2 mutation. Chemotherapy then killed off only the cells that had a functional variant of MSH2.
The counterintuitive idea, noted Kitzman, is that the surviving cells do not have functioning MSH2—which have mutations that are most likely to cause disease.
“We were basically trying to sit down and make the mutations we could so they could serve as a reference for ones that are newly seen or are amongst the thousands of variants of unknown significance identified in people from clinical testing,” says Kitzman. “Until now, geneticists could not be sure whether these are benign or pathogenic.”
It is hoped that with other patient-specific information, some of these variants could be reclassified, and those individuals advised to undergo more intense screening.
Kitzman said: “One of the next areas that will need some focus in the field of human genetics is to create these sorts of maps for many different genes where there is a clinical connection, so we can be more predictive when variants are found in an individual.”
Source: Medical Xpress
Journal information: Xiaoyan Jia et al, Massively parallel functional testing of MSH2 missense variants conferring Lynch syndrome risk, The American Journal of Human Genetics (2020). DOI: 10.1016/j.ajhg.2020.12.003