Let’s Talk: Genetics!

The genius inside every gene

How does genetics relate to cancer research?

Genetics is a branch of biology encompassing the study of genes, genetic variability, and hereditary patterns. The study of genetics explores how a set of instructions, comprised of patterns of nucleic acid or DNA within each and every one of our cells, are regulated, and how this regulation impacts everyday life. When errors, or mutations, arise in the patterns of nucleic acid, they can affect various functions within cells and cause those cells to behave inappropriately, such as growing faster or consuming more sugar. It is through this mechanism that cancer can arise; that is, random mutations occur in many different regions within a cell’s nucleic acids resulting in unpredictable, and often problematic, consequences such as immortality of the cell. Through gaining a deeper understanding of the genetic origins of cancer, such as figuring out what specific changes have occurred, we can make logical predictions about the severity of cancer and how cancer can be treated therapeutically.

What jobs in genetics can you pursue if you’re interested in cancer research?

There are a number of jobs in the field of the genetics that relate to cancer research. Take a look at our blog posts about:

Where is the field of Genetics heading?

The field of genetics is moving toward an era of “personalized medicine”. Due to new technologies continuously being developed that allow for identification of exact mutations in the nucleic acids of each individual cancer patient, we are getting better at treating patients based on specific cancer types. In the past, harmful treatments such as chemotherapy—a process where cells are killed using chemicals—was the most common therapeutic option for many patients but can be associated with adverse outcomes. In the near future, patients may be able to explore therapeutic options that will treat their unique cancer conditions and lessen the likelihood of harmful outcomes associated with some treatment regimens. This field is exciting and evolving every day, which is what will allow it to keep up with a disease like cancer that constantly evolves as well.

Meet our LET’S tALK GENETICS editors

Kimberly Skead is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. Her research combines medical genomics with machine learning to understand how patterns of blood evolution change prior to cancer diagnosis in order to better understand the origins of cancer in the human blood system.

Renée Resendes is an MSc Candidate in the Department of Biology (Developmental Biology Specialization) under the supervision of Dr. Gregory Kelly and Dr. Tugce Balci at Western University. Her research focuses on characterizing a rare human neurodevelopmental disorder believed to be caused by a mutation in the gene PRR12. The goal of her project is to establish and characterize a PRR12 mutant zebrafish line to understand how this gene is regulated during normal and abnormal embryonic development.