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Are humans putting too much emphasis on genetic linkages in cancer research?

genes to cancer
  • Cancer research is significantly more prevalent than study on any other scientific problem.
  • In part, maybe as a result of the relative simplicity with which scientists are able to perform genetic cancer research, practically every human gene has been shown to have a link with the illness in some manner.
  • Several of these relationships are called into doubt by a new publication, which implies that researchers should consider exploring alternative routes of exploration.

There’s a solid reason why cancer is the most frequently investigated biological or biomedical problem, and it’s not just because it’s popular. Cancer will afflict one out of every two people in the United Kingdom at some point in their life, according to the National Cancer Institute.

In contrast, according to a new review of the PubMed collection of biomedical research literature, the quest for links between genes and cancer has resulted in an oversupply of documented relationships, making fresh research even more challenging.

At this moment, nearly every human gene has been found to have some association with cancer, whether directly or indirectly.

According to the report, which appears in the journal Trends in Genetics, the PubMed library has at least one publication on each of the 17,371 human genes that have been identified. In at least one of these publications, cancer is mentioned by 87.7 percent of the authors.

Only three genes, out of the 4,186 genes that have been the topic of 100 or more PubMed papers, have been shown to have no connection with cancer.

The author of the new paper, Dr. João Pedro de Magalhães of the University of Liverpool in the U.K., writes, “An incredible 24.4% of all publications associated with genes in PubMed mention cancer.”

Dr. de Magalhes believes that the abundance of links may be due to the relative ease with which cancer research may be conducted from a genetic perspective:

“When compared to other prevalent diseases, such as heart disease or neurological disorders, cancer appears to be more straightforward to investigate, owing to the widespread availability of resources, such as cell lines.”

In other words, as compared to many other disease situations, the experimental approaches required to research cancer appear to have fewer technical restrictions.”

Why the number of links is a problem

According to Dr. de Magalhes, the large number of links reported in studies implies that virtually all genes are implicated in cancer, which is highly implausible.

Due to the fact that associations do not often imply true causal linkages, much of this research may be useless statistical noise that makes productive analysis more challenging.

The study highlights numerous ways in which the abundance of reported connections stifles useful research:

  • According to the report, it jeopardizes the integrity of grant awards since “the study of practically any human gene may be justified (e.g., in grant applications) based on current literature by its potential connection to cancer.”
  • Because there are so many gene-cancer connections reported in the literature, genome-wide research and high-throughput analysis are more likely to catch an undesirable range of gene-cancer interactions. According to the findings of the article, there is a greater than 99 percent likelihood that three or more genes would make their way into a result.
  • When there are biases in cancer research publications, they can undermine the integrity of network analysis, such as protein-protein interactions, which are influenced by the amount of studies that have been conducted on each individual protein.

According to Dr. de Magalhes, researchers should be aware of the bias toward finding gene correlations for cancer in their talks with other researchers and when evaluating their work:

“In genetics and genomics, literally everything is associated with cancer. If a gene has not been associated with cancer yet, it probably means it has not been studied enough and will most likely be associated with cancer in the future.”

Says Dr. de Magalhães, “In a scientific world where everything and every gene can be associated with cancer, the challenge is determining which are the key drivers of cancer and more promising therapeutic targets.”

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