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Posts Tagged ‘gender’


Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

Gender of a person can affect the kinds of cancer-causing mutations they develop, according to a genomic analysis spanning nearly 2,000 tumours and 28 types of cancer. The results show striking differences in the cancer-causing mutations found in people who are biologically male versus those who are biologically female — not only in the number of mutations lurking in their tumours, but also in the kinds of mutations found there.

 

Liver tumours from women were more likely to carry mutations caused by a faulty system of DNA mending called mismatch repair, for instance. And men with any type of cancer were more likely to exhibit DNA changes thought to be linked to a process that the body uses to repair DNA with two broken strands. These biases could point researchers to key biological differences in how tumours develop and evolve across sexes.

 

The data add to a growing realization that sex is important in cancer, and not only because of lifestyle differences. Lung and liver cancer, for example, are more common in men than in women — even after researchers control for disparities in smoking or alcohol consumption. The source of that bias, however, has remained unclear.

In 2014, the US National Institutes of Health began encouraging researchers to consider sex differences in preclinical research by, for example, including female animals and cell lines from women in their studies. And some studies have since found sex-linked biases in the frequency of mutations in protein-coding genes in certain cancer types, including some brain cancers and advanced melanoma.

 

But the present study is the most comprehensive study of sex differences in tumour genomes so far. It looks at mutations not only in genes that code for proteins, but also in the vast expanses of DNA that have other functions, such as controlling when genes are turned on or off. The study also compares male and female genomes across many different cancers, which can allow researchers to pick up on additional patterns of DNA mutations, in part by increasing the sample sizes.

 

Researchers analysed full genome sequences gathered by the International Cancer Genome Consortium. They looked at differences in the frequency of 174 mutations known to drive cancer, and found that some of these mutations occurred more frequently in men than in women, and vice versa. When they looked more broadly at the loss or duplication of DNA segments in the genome, they found 4,285 sex-biased genes spread across 15 chromosomes.

 

There were also differences found when some mutations seemed to arise during tumour development, suggesting that some cancers follow different evolutionary paths in men and women. Researchers also looked at particular patterns of DNA changes. Such patterns can, in some cases, reflect the source of the mutation. Tobacco smoke, for example, leaves behind a particular signature in the DNA.

 

Taken together, the results highlight the importance of accounting for sex, not only in clinical trials but also in preclinical studies. This could eventually allow researchers to pin down the sources of many of the differences found in this study. Liver cancer is roughly three times as common in men as in women in some populations, and its incidence is increasing in some countries. A better understanding of its aetiology may turn out to be really important for prevention strategies and treatments.

 

References:

 

https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00562-7?utm_source=Nature+Briefing

 

https://www.nature.com/news/policy-nih-to-balance-sex-in-cell-and-animal-studies-1.15195

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26296643

 

https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/507939v1

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25985759

 

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Reporter and Curator: Dr. Sudipta Saha, Ph.D.

 

Biologists may have been building a more nuanced view of sex, but society has yet to catch up. True, more than half a century of activism from members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has softened social attitudes to sexual orientation and gender. Many societies are now comfortable with men and women crossing conventional societal boundaries in their choice of appearance, career and sexual partner. But when it comes to sex, there is still intense social pressure to conform to the binary model.

 

This pressure has meant that people born with clear DSDs (difference/disorder of sex development) often undergo surgery to ‘normalize’ their genitals. Such surgery is controversial because it is usually performed on babies, who are too young to consent, and risks assigning a sex at odds with the child’s ultimate gender identity — their sense of their own gender. Intersex advocacy groups have therefore argued that doctors and parents should at least wait until a child is old enough to communicate their gender identity, which typically manifests around the age of three, or old enough to decide whether they want surgery at all.

 

As many as 1 person in 100 has some form of “DSD” with or without external manifestation. Diagnoses of DSDs previously relied on hormone tests, anatomical inspections and imaging, followed by painstaking tests of one gene at a time. Now, advances in genetic techniques mean that teams can analyze multiple genes at once, aiming straight for a genetic diagnosis and making the process less stressful for families. Children with DSDs are treated by multidisciplinary teams that aim to tailor management and support to each individual and their family, but this usually involves raising a child as male or female even if no surgery is done.

 

The simple scenario that all learn is that two X chromosomes make someone female, and an X and a Y chromosome make someone male. These are simplistic ways of thinking about what is scientifically very complex. Anatomy, hormones, cells, and chromosomes (and also personal identity convictions) are actually not usually aligned with this binary classification.

 

More than 25 genes that affect sex development have now been identified, and they have a wide range of variations that affect people in subtle ways. Many differences aren’t even noticed until incidental medical encounters, such as a forty-six-year-old woman pregnant with her third child, found after amniocentesis that half her cells carry male chromosomes. Or a seventy-year-old father of three who learns during a hernia repair that he has a uterus.

 

Furthermore, scientists now understood that everyone’s body is made up of a patchwork of genetically distinct cells, some of which may have a different sex than the rest. This “mosaicism” can have effects ranging from undetectable to extraordinary, such as “identical” twins of different sexes. An extremely common instance of mosaicism comes from cells passing over the placental barrier during pregnancy. Men often carry female cells from their mothers, and women carry male cells from their sons. Research has shown that these cells remain present for decades, but what effects they have on disease and behavior is an essentially unstudied question.

 

References:

 

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/mar/02/cambridge-scientists-create-first-self-developing-embryo-from-stem-cells

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25693544

 

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajmg.a.34123/abstract;jsessionid=A330AD995EE25C7A0AD5EA478694ADD8.f04t01

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25091731

 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1695712

 

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