New screens can pinpoint gene mutation

Updated: 2013-07-23 23:18

By Liu Zhihua (China Daily)

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The Beijing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed a new technique to scan for mutations in the gene p53 to detect malignant genetic changes in human body.

Early detection of gene mutations can allow doctors to direct people to take precautions to stop malignant tumor growth, or to receive cancer treatment early to increase their chances of survival.

The institution announced it will cooperate with Sinopharm International to promote the technology nationwide.

P53 is one of the genes that suppress tumor formation, but when p53 itself mutates, the chance of a tumor formation will increase 50 to 90 percent.

Since the gene was discovered in the 1980s, scientists have been developing technologies to identify mutations in the gene and cancers related to those mutations.

In recent years, scanning of p53 has been used in some top hospitals in China to supervise the tumor growth in patients who undergo chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

However, this is the first time that the scanning of p53 is to be used on healthy people, according to Zhang Jie, the head researcher of the p53 scanning program with the institution.

The scanning services for cancer patients are usually very detailed and are very expensive, costing at least 10,000 yuan ($1,630) each time, Zhang said at a gene scanning technologies forum held by Health Times.

"Our technology is improved, and much simpler. It costs only about 1,000 yuan, and can be applied among common people as a body check choice."

If there is a mutation at a certain position of p53, there is a 50 to 90 percent chance there is, or will soon be, related tumors and a closer checkup will be required, Zhang says.

With only three drops of blood, the test can identify nearly all the important p53 mutations as an indication of the likelihood of related cancers, including liver cancer and breast cancer, Zhang adds.

However, some experts, including Du Bing, deputy director with Beijing Health Management Association, emphasize that the scanning can only exclude the possibility of some cancers, not of all cancers.

Du says the formation of a cancer is very complicated and prolonged.

Even if the test suggests there is no mutation at a certain time, there is no guarantee there will be no genetic mutation in future, or that those tested will definitely not have cancer, Du adds.