Co-Director, Hutchison/MRC Research Center
Director, Cambridge Cancer Centre
Emeritus Professor of Oncology
University of Cambridge
Extensive efforts over the past seven years have identified 70 of possibly hundreds of variants that relate to breast cancer, but we currently know very little about the relative risk associated with most of these genetic markers. Emerging research suggests that each individual variant has a very small effect on risk and that the combination of multiple variants is what turns a normal cell into a cancer cell. The focus of Professor Ponder’s laboratory and his current collaboration with Dr. Kerstin Meyer is to map the control networks of all the genes in a breast cancer cell to identify clusters of gene variants that share common pathways. In this way they hope to identify “gene control clusters” involved in risk that can be used to develop new approaches for the treatment and prevention of breast cancer. In the last year, they have built the “map”, and shown that the genes that are associated with the 70 known variants cluster together. This suggests that combined effects of multiple gene variants create gene control centers that work through common tumor growth pathways. In the coming year they will continue to test and validate their system. This work may provide a powerful bioinformatics tool that can be used to better understand the importance of the hundreds of rare genetic risk variants that continue to be discovered through large genome-wide studies and identify actionable targets for prevention or treatment.
Bruce Ponder is Emeritus Professor of Oncology at Cambridge, Head of Oncology and Director of the Cancer Centre, and was the Founding Director of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Research Institute. He established one of the first clinics for familial cancer and contributed to gene discovery and genetic epidemiology in thyroid, breast and ovarian cancer. His focus is now on common genetic variation and cancer susceptibility.Over the past 10 years he has led the development of a new laboratory and clinical centre for cancer research in Cambridge, culminating in 2007 with the opening of the new CRUK Cambridge Research Institute. He is President of the British Association for Cancer Research, and was knighted in 2008 for "services to medicine".