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New research identifies genetic variants associated with osteosarcoma

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The recent death of inspiring Minnesota teenager and singer/songwriter Zach Sobiech has put a spotlight on osteosarcoma, a cancer of the bone which typically appears during puberty.

About a third of all patients diagnosed with osteosarcoma each year will eventually die from it.

However, new research made possible in part by Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota researchers may shed help new light on the condition.

In a letter published today by Nature Genetics, researchers outline two locations within the genome that influence whether a child is more or less likely to develop osteosarcoma.

Logan Spector, Ph.D., researcher in the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota and associate professor in the Medical School’s Department of Pediatrics, was co-author on the paper.

According to Spector, the main conclusions the research were as follows:

  • This research found two locations in the genome that indicate whether a child is more or less likely to get osteosarcoma.
  • While the gene variants do not have much implication for individuals, since even in carriers osteosarcoma will be very rare, they do explain more about the biology of the disease and open up new avenues for future research. For instance, the GRM4 gene was linked to osteosarcoma, but it had not previously been on anyone’s radar.
  • Researchers must now determine how these gene variants are modulating risk of osteosarcoma. This type of research will encompass a variety of models, including examining many more patients, animals, and in vitro cellular experiments.

“These types of studies are considered the gold standard for finding genes associated with human disease, because the number of markers across the genome means the results are considered unbiased,” said Spector. “The findings are likely to be replicated and that work is already underway here at the University of Minnesota.”

This research was performed in partnership with researchers from a variety of locations and coordinated by the National Cancer Institute.

If you’d like to learn more about Zach Sobiech and his battle with osteosarcoma, you can visit his page on the Children’s Cancer Research Fund website. There, you’ll find a documentary about the teenager and can watch the music video for his hit song, Clouds. You can also contribute to the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund.

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