Nearly 90% of Human Genes Are Mentioned in Cancer Studies, And That's a Problem

An in-depth analysis of scientific research revealed that almost 9 out 10 genes in humans have been mentioned in at minimum one cancer-related study. Those that have not have probably will in the years ahead.
Experts find it difficult to search for therapeutic targets. Research into any gene or its relationship with cancer can be justified on the basis of previous studies. This can slow down the search and identify genuine causes.

These findings were based on PubMed search results, which includes tens of thousands of articles on biomedical topics and life sciences. Some of these topics date back as far as the 1950s.

Joo Pedro de Magalhes from the University of Liverpool, UK, wrote that cancer is one of the most studied topics in biomedical and biological sciences.

"However, there are more data about cancer genes than any other disease or process due to the large amount of data that has been collected."

Currently, cancer is mentioned in approximately 4 million of the 30 million PubMed publications. You can see the sheer volume and depth of research that has been done on this topic by comparing it to the 350,000 stroke-related publications.

Although this vast body of research on cancer is helpful in the pursuit of treatments and cures, it can also make it more difficult to do systematic, large-scale analysis when it comes down to genetic links.

Also, it is possible to lose sight of the genes that cause cancer in the sea of genes that are only linked to the disease.

Although these papers do not necessarily prove a causal relationship between cancer and certain genes, they do indicate that most human genes have been examined in a cancer context. This can cause biases in the way researchers choose what to study next.

De Magalhes writes that "the study of almost any human gene can be justified on the basis of existing literature and its potential relevance for cancer."

To increase the value and accuracy of predictions and insights, it is important to understand the causes of biases in large-scale analysis and correct them.

Cancer is now estimated to affect one in every two people in our lifetimes. Research into the disease is not slowing down. Previous studies have shown that cancer research volume is growing faster than any other area of medicine.

Cancer is relatively easy to study due to the abundance of data and resources such as established cell lines. This topic is also very popular, and it attracts lots of funding. However, not all cancers receive the same funding.

De Magalhes says that if a gene in a person isn't linked to cancer yet, it's likely because it hasn’t been thoroughly studied enough. It's only a matter time before it makes it onto the list.

Although it is clear that research linking genes and cancer is vital to the fight against this disease, this report warns researchers that there are potential biases in connecting all parts of our genetic makeup with cancer.

De Magalhes concludes, "In a scientific universe where every gene and everything can be linked to cancer, it is difficult to determine which key drivers are cancerous and which therapeutic targets are more promising."

The research was published in Trends in Genetics.