It is known that prolonged exposure to the sun's harmful UV rays can lead to melanoma, but an unanswered question is why some people are more likely to develop melanoma than others. Researchers from the Translational Genomic Research Institute (TGen) in Phoenix, Arizona and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) in Queensland, Australia, however, are close to discovering a new gene that could help explain variations in melanoma risk.

The researchers identified a region on chromosome 20 that influences a person's risk of developing melanoma. The researchers narrowed the gene location through a genome-wide association study - a first in melanoma research. Genome-wide studies involve rapidly scanning DNA of many people to find genetic variations associated with a particular disease. After identifying new genetic associations, researchers can use the information to develop better strategies to detect, treat and prevent the disease.

The study - whose data collection began 20 years ago - involved more than 4,000 Australian samples (2,019 cases and 2,105 controls) and was a joint project between Australian, American, and European research groups. "We're closing in on genetic variants which cause 16 percent of the population to be at nearly double the increased risk of developing the disease. In public health terms, this finding is highly significant," says TGen Investigator Dr Kevin Brown.

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