Identifying New Colorectal Cancer Genes

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Researchers from Ottawa and Toronto played a key role in an international team that identified four new genes for colorectal cancer. The discovery, published online in Nature Genetics examined 38,710 genetic markers in 13,315 individuals from four countries. A total of 10 genes have now been linked to colorectal cancer, and together these genes could predict up to a six fold increase in the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer.

The team included Drs. Brent Zanke, Tom Hudson and Steven Gallinger. Funding was provided by Genome Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and Cancer Care Ontario.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, in 2008, an estimated 21,500 Canadians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 8,900 will die of it. Ontario has one of the highest rates of colorectal cancer in the world and it is the second leading cause of cancer death in the province.


An Ontario-based company called ArcticDx has licensed all 10 genes to develop a genetic test to determine if individuals are at high risk for colon cancer and may benefit from earlier and more intensive physical screening.

Colon cancer screening is currently done through tests such as the Fecal Occult Blood Test offered by Cancer Care Ontario and the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care as part of the ColonCancerCheck program.

“The benefits of this research are immense,” said Dr. Zanke. “If people know they have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, they can make changes to their lifestyle and undergo physical screening tests more often and that may save lives. This is a great example of how local development of Ontario-led discoveries will have a global impact.”

“Many of the world’s best health researchers are in Ontario, and that’s why major breakthroughs are happening here,” said John Wilkinson, Minister of Research and Innovation. “Ontario is committed to ensuring our researchers have the tools and resources they need to get to the global market first, with breakthroughs that will improve people’s lives along with our ability to better detect, treat and ultimately prevent diseases such as cancer. Our government is proud to support this important endeavour.”

Dr. Brent Zanke is a scientist at the Ottawa Health Research Institute, oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital, associate professor of Medicine at the University of Ottawa and chief scientific officer of ArcticDx. Dr. Tom Hudson is the president and scientific director of OICR. Dr. Steven Gallinger is a senior investigator at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital and is also affiliated with the University Heath Network (UHN) as Head of Hepatobiliary Surgical Oncology.