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Studying genes to detect kidney and prostate cancer

Toronto, December 27, 2012

By Leslie Shepherd

Dr. George Yousef shows an image of the various subtypes of kidney cancer.
Dr. George Yousef shows an image of the various subtypes of kidney cancer.

The only way to confirm if a mass found in a kidney is benign is with a biopsy – an invasive technique with a 30-per-cent failure rate.

If the mass is malignant, the only treatment is to remove the kidney. Dr. George Yousef, an anatomical pathologist, is looking at patients’ genetic make-up to try to detect and possibly treat diseases such as kidney and prostate cancer.

His lab is extensively involved in microRNA research (microRNA are short fragments of DNA that control a wide variety of biological processes). He has shown they can identify kidney cancer as well as distinguish between its subtypes. MicroRNA are molecular markers, so if his lab findings can be translated to a clinical setting, it may mean a simple, non-invasive blood or urine test could detect certain types of cancer.

Dr. Yousef groups patients based on biological behaviour rather than by disease location.

“The one size fits all approach doesn’t work,” he said. “Two people can have the same cancer, but because of the differences in our genetic make-up and interaction of the various molecules, the disease can express itself and respond to treatment differently.”

Spotlight on St. Michael's basic science research