Date Published: 9 June 2009

First gene-based test to predict individual lung cancer risk

Health News from New Zealand.

A gene-based test is now available to identify smokers and ex-smokers at greatest risk of getting lung cancer.

The test is the first in the world to provide a personalised estimate of lung cancer risk, by combining results of DNA analysis with other known risk factors for the disease (age, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and family history of lung cancer).

It was developed from research at The University of Auckland by Associate Professor Robert Young.

"All smokers face an increased risk of developing lung cancer, among a host of other serious health problems, but for some individuals the risk is much greater than for others," said Dr Young. "With this test, doctors will be able to identify those at greatest risk while there is still time to help."

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in New Zealand, killing between 4,300 and 4,600 people a year. But despite decades of public health warnings many people continue smoking. Research suggests many smokers have "optimistic bias" ? the belief that bad outcomes happen to other people, not them.

Dr Young said that the new test, trade named Respiragene, gives doctors a tool to help overcome optimistic bias by personalising the health risks of smoking, showing patients their individual susceptibility to lung cancer. Early evidence suggests that identifying higher-risk patients may also allow better monitoring for early detection of lung cancer.

Lung cancer is the most lethal of the common cancers. Half of all patients die within one year of diagnosis and 80% die within two years. Lung cancer risk can be lowered by quitting smoking, and survival rates improve dramatically if the disease is detected early.

The test generates a score placing smokers and ex-smokers into one of three categories. A "Moderate Risk" score means the person has a risk of developing lung cancer about the same as an average smoker. Average smokers are 20 to 30 times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers, and about one in 10 smokers at moderate risk will develop lung cancer.

People categorised as "High Risk" are about four times more likely than an average smoker to get lung cancer, and those at "Very High Risk" are about 10 times more likely to get the disease.

"The test results may help patients decide, with their doctor, to get help to quit smoking and how closely they should be monitored for lung cancer going forward," said Dr Young, adding that many ex-smokers remain at risk of lung cancer despite having broken their habit.

The test, which obtains patient DNA from a simple mouth swab, was developed by Synergenz Bioscience Ltd, a company spun off from the University. It will be processed in Auckland by DNA Diagnostics Ltd, another spin-off company.

"This is a good example of the success of Auckland UniServices Limited commercialising technologies derived from research at the University," said Dr Peter Lee, Chief Executive of Auckland UniServices Limited.

"We're excited to be working with Dr Young and Synergenz to make this test available in New Zealand," said Dr Arthur Morris, head of DNA Diagnostics "It is at the forefront of exciting changes coming in the field of genetic testing and personalised medicine."

Dr Young will be presenting the test and its uses at the New Zealand General Practice Conference in Rotorua, June 11-14, 2009.

It will be offered immediately in Auckland, before becoming available in the rest of New Zealand, and elsewhere in the world later in the year. Some of the smokers and ex-smokers involved in the original genetic research at The University of Auckland have already been offered and taken the test.

Source(s): Auckland University, New Zealand

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