Science proves it: South Islanders are genetic mutants

No, not the feral gene, or even the Ginger gene, but another with serious potential health issues.

Many South Island melanoma patients have a different gene mutation than North Island patients and may end up being treated by different drugs.

A large study of patients led by the University of Otago has found similar BRAF gene mutation rates in both the North and South Island, but stark differences in the NRAS gene.

Mutations to the NRAS were found in 38 percent of South Island melanomas, but only in 21 percent of North Island ones.

Study co-leader Professor Mike Eccles of the Dunedin School of Medicine says the South Island rate sticks out “like a sore thumb”, and is out of line with results in other countries as well.

Researchers don’t think ethnic differences explain the mutation rates of the NRAS gene but sunburn or strong exposure to UV-radiation, especially during spring, may.

Or it could be the water?

The most common mutation is to the BRAF gene, with one-third of the melanomas in the study showing changes to this gene, which may be targeted by the drug Zelboraf.

The researchers found NRAS mutations are linked to nodular and thus more deadly melanomas.

A preliminary 2015 US study found that in a small number of patients, melanomas with NRAS mutations had higher response rates to immunotherapy treatments such as the drugs Keytruda and Opdivo, Professor Eccles says.

“Our findings suggest that South Island melanoma patients could potentially benefit more often from the use of such therapies, should the US findings be confirmed by further research,” he says.

The study, which is the first comprehensive genetic analysis of melanoma in New Zealand, sought to analyse mutation frequencies of 20 recurrently mutated genes in samples from 529 patients with metastatic melanoma.

It’s official, South Islanders are mutants.




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  • sonovaMin

    Heh – my understanding of the story was that the stronger solar radiation of the sun down there impacted on certain genes more than the north islanders -not that south islanders were genetically different.

  • GoingRight

    Do you think the higher proportion of residents descended from the original Scottish and Irish immigrants who settled in the South Island might account for this? Just a thought.

    • Mighty1

      I think that this could be a valid conclusion, I wonder if the sample was normalised for this bias?

  • Michelle

    When l saw this headline l thought it was another push for keytruda