Innovation and Partnerships Office

Gene Tests for Increased Breast Cancer Risk from Low Dose Radiation IB-3253


  • Breast cancer risk screening
  • Cancer research


  • Predicts probability of disease-free survival in breast cancer patients
  • More accurate than linear model of breast cancer risk from low dose radiation


Berkeley Lab researchers Andrew Wyrobek and Antoine Snijders have developed panels of biomarkers that might identify risk for breast cancer from low dose radiation and predict survival among patients who have breast cancer. Specifically, the Berkeley Lab team has developed a series of gene expression panels, with as few as nine to as many as 90 biomarkers. The panels are comprised of specific genes that were found to be turned on or off at different periods following exposure to low dose radiation. Cancer risk can be gauged based on the signatures, or patterns of these gene expression profiles.

The Berkeley Lab researchers selected various genes for the panel based on research with laboratory mice, some bred for susceptibility to low dose radiation, others bred for resistance to it. Large scale gene expression assays were used to narrow the number of important genes that appeared to raise or lower risk of mammary cell cancers at different stages of exposure to low dose radiation. Human counterparts to these mouse genes that were differentially expressed between sensitive and resistant mice also correlated with poor outcome among patients with breast cancer, supporting the hypothesis that the genetic mechanisms that determine susceptibility to mammary cancer in mice are similar to tissue mechanisms that determine poor survival in breast cancer patients.

Current models for predicting breast cancer risk from low dose radiation (<10 cGy) assume that risk increases linearly, in proportion to the dose. However, there is growing evidence that the health effects of low dose radiation may vary substantially among people, depending on their genetic makeup. Unlike the severe genetic damage caused by high doses of radiation, the effects of low dose radiation are much more subtle and include processes that regulate DNA repair, cellular proliferation, tissue response to stress, and immune reactions.

DEVELOPMENT STAGE:  The technology has been evaluated using human tumor tissue for which expression profiling data were available.

STATUS:  Patent pending.  Available for licensing or collaborative research.


Snijders, A., et al. “Genetic Differences in Transcript Responses to Low-Dose Ionizing Radiation Identify Tissue Functions Associated with Breast Cancer Susceptibility,” PLOS ONE, Vol. 7, 10, October 2012.


Assay to Determine Sensitivity to Radiation, IB-3203