Genetics changes treatment of thyroid cancer: Discovery by FNP programme winners

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A team of Polish scientists, including winners of Foundation for Polish Science (FNP) programmes, have discovered a method for more effective diagnosis of patients with thyroid cancer at the most risk of aggressive spread of the disease. The results of the research were published in March 2016 in the prestigious journal Clinical Cancer Research. Within a few weeks patients in Warsaw will be able to benefit from this discovery.

About 2,500 people, mostly women, are diagnosed with thyroid cancer in Poland every year. In 90% of the cases the prognosis is mild (with patients living for decades in remission), but in about 10% of patients the cancer moves aggressively, quickly leading to metastasis and death. These patients require intensive treatment from the beginning, but so far they could not be identified. Thanks to genetic research, that will now be possible. Doctors and geneticists from the Medical University of Warsaw, the Centre of New Technologies at the University of Warsaw, and the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Institute of Oncology in Warsaw showed that the severity of the course of the disease is linked with the presence of an inborn mutation in the DIRC3 gene. In other words, the presence of this gene mutation means the given patient can be assigned to the high-risk group. Because the mutation can be identified at the stage of planning the patient’s therapy, the scope of surgical and supplementary treatment can be modified accordingly.

As explained by Prof. Krystian Jażdżewski, one of the co-authors: “Analysis of the mutation in the DIRC3 gene can help predict the risk of aggressive course of the cancer and related mortality. Patients who are identified as carrying the mutation can undergo much more radical therapy and monitoring. Conversely, in patients without this mutation it may be possible to limit the therapeutic intervention (e.g. by removing only one lobe of the thyroid), allowing them to return to good health much more quickly and protecting them against the complications of more extensive surgery.”

Although the results of the research have just been published, patients will be able to take advantage of them within the next few weeks. Tests for the presence of the mutation will be performed at Warsaw Genomics, a spinoff company from the University of Warsaw. The test requires 9 ml of blood (one test tube) and costs PLN 300. Warsaw Genomics also offers other cancer diagnostic tests.

The article reporting the results achieved by the Warsaw researchers is published in Clinical Cancer Research, the prestigious journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. The principal authors include winners and grantees of FNP programmes: Michał Świerniak (grantee in the TEAM POIG programme), Anna Wójcicka (grantee in the TEAM POIG programme and winner of the IMPULS and MENTORING programmes), Wojciech Gierlikowski (grantee in the TEAM POIG programme), and Krystian Jażdżewski (winner of the FOCUS, TEAM and IMPULS programmes).


Pictured: Prof. Krystian Jażdżewski, photo by Michał Jędrak