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Close relatives of women diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 35 years are at an increased risk of developing other cancers, according to a University of Melbourne led study, published in the British Journal of Cancer today.

Professor John Hopper, Director of Research from the Centre for Molecular, Environmental, Genetic and Analytic Epidemiology at the University of Melbourne, a lead investigator in the study, said these are surprising and novel findings which could be pointing to the existence of a new cancer genetic syndrome.

“The results suggest there could possibly be undiscovered genes causing breast cancer in these young women, and perhaps other cancers in their families,” Professor Hopper said.

Every year in Australia, more than 300 women are diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 35 years.  This is approximately one in 40 of all breast cancers.

In the largest population based study of its kind, scientists studied 2200 parents and siblings of 500 women diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 35 from across three countries, Australia, Canada and the United States.

After excluding families with mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2, the two known major breast cancer susceptibility genes, they found that close relatives were at increased risk of not only breast cancer, but also of cancers of the prostate, lung, brain and urinary tract.

The results showed:
• Fathers and brothers had a 5-fold increased risk of prostate cancer.
• Mothers and sisters had a 2-fold increased risk of ovarian cancer as well as a 4-fold increased risk of breast cancer
• Close relatives also had a 3-fold increased risk for brain cancer, an 8-fold increased risk for lung cancer, and a 4-fold increased risk for urinary tract cancers.    

"We wanted to find out what caused the early onset of breast cancer in these women and found some results we weren’t expecting regarding their relatives,” Professor Hopper said.

 “The results of this study could help scientists discover new cancer susceptibility genes that explain the risk of early-onset and other cancers within some families,” he said.

 “Our next step is to conduct larger studies to further clarify these results.”

Women aged in their 20s and 30s who have breast cancer, or anyone with a family history of early onset breast cancer, can call 1800 090 990 for further information and/or if they wish to participate in this research

For confidential cancer information and support call Cancer Council Helpline 131120

 

 

The School of Historical Studies’ Professor Joy Damousi talks about this weekend’s grand final, the role of the AFL in Melbourne’s history and culture, why Collingwood and its supporters evoke such extreme reaction, the professionalisation of football and the associated expectation for players to behave professionally off and on the ground.  A lifelong Magpies supporter….she tips Collingwood to win this weekend.

“The AFL grand final is a huge weekend in Melbourne, and always a massive day in the Melbourne calendar.  It has been part of the city’s history for over 100 years, after all.

“But especially this week, with two of the oldest teams, two of the great teams in St Kilda and Collingwood, both hungry for success, there’s a great interest, not just from those teams’ supporters but among Melburnians and just among supporters who love the game.  These are two teams who have played very well and whose style of play is a beauty to watch, so we’re looking forward to a fantastic game on Saturday afternoon.”

Professor Damousi says that in many ways Collingwood is a victim of its own success, and because of that, draws a lot of passion from supporters and haters alike.

“Collingwood has been a very glamorous team for much of its history: it has a glamour and an aura associated with it.

“Their supporters love them because they’re a winning team, usually performing well each season, and opposition teams hate them because of that.  They’re a consistently impressive team, but still, premierships have not come too readily. That inspires a desperation among supporters, which I think you’ll find Saturday in large numbers.”

Speaking more widely about the professionalisation of football, Professor Damousie says football clubs used to be tied to suburbs in Melbourne, with supporters going to their local grounds on Saturday afternoons – something which has all gone now, and is a loss that people lament.

“But things are just different, not necessarily better or worse but different, and certainly football and the MCG is a fundamental part of Melbourne’s history. The connection to the MCG is still very strong and it gives people a sense of place, and of history.  Football is also a generational thing.  Support for a team is passed down in families and can help define family history.”

Patterned feathers, previously thought to be used only for camouflage in birds, can play an important role in attracting a mate and fending off rivals, a University of Melbourne study reveals.

Ms Thanh-Lan Gluckman, co-author of the paper and Masters of Philosophy student from the Department of Zoology at the University of Melbourne, said this finding brought a new perspective to research in animal communication and evolution.

“The implication of this study is that feathers don’t need to be bright and showy to be used in sexual signaling and hence this changes our understanding of animal communication,” she said.

Hundreds of bird species such as Zebra Finches and Cuckoos have “barred” patterns on their feathers, which are made up of horizontal bars alternating dark and light pigmentation side by side.

“Since Darwin wrote of visual communication in birds, we have known that bright coloured feathers play a role in sexual signaling, for example to attract females. But the role of barred patterns as a communication signal has largely been overlooked,” Ms Gluckman said.

The study was a large-scale comparison of plumage of around 8900 bird species worldwide (90% of all bird species), and was conducted with former University of Melbourne lecturer Dr. Gonçalo Cardoso, now at the Research Centre in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources (CIBIO), Portugal.

The researchers compared barred plumage and other patterns on the body of males, females, and juvenile birds, to assess what they might be used for.

While the researchers found evidence that barred plumage is predominantly used as camouflage, they also found that barred plumage was much more likely to appear only in males, or only at sexual maturity, compared to other patterns.

“Furthermore, we found these differences on the front of the birds, which is an important area for communication during face-to-face interactions, not on their back, which is more useful for camouflage when running away or hiding from predators,” she said.

“This is an exciting finding showing an elegant evolutionary solution to the needs of birds to camouflage as well as to signal to a potential mate or rival.”

The study has been published in the prestigious Journal of Evolutionary Biology.

A price on carbon is back on the agenda following yesterday's announcement of a minority Gillard Government says Dr Peter Christoff of the Department of Resource Management and Geography at University of Melbourne, but an emissions trading scheme like the one pushed by Labor in its first term is unlikley.

“In securing Greens' support in the lower house, Labor agreed to the formation of a Climate Change Committee of experts and parliamentarians, to consider the issue of a carbon price. Its composition, mandate and timing are yet to be determined, but the three independents and the Green supporting Labor in the lower house will certainly hasten its work,” Dr Christoff says.

“However Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor both opposed the CPRS last year. Meanwhile, the Greens proposed an interim levy but rejected an emissions trading scheme - or any other measure - that rewards or exempts big polluters.”

“So an interim carbon levy, or an emissions scheme which excludes major compensation for big polluters, is now likely - especially once the Greens gain the casting vote in the Senate from the middle of next year," he says. 

On the 175th birthday of the city of Melbourne, Professor Miles Lewis says the city needs to overcome a long history of 'planning anarchy' to continue to grow.  

"Planners have lost their vision of what planning needs to be.  When town planning was introduced here after World War 2 it was seen to be a rather socialist activity, where you distributed the goods across the community in the best possible way.  Now it's seen to be a task of facilitating development, which it shouldn't be."

"What needs to be done is a revived policy of decentralization where we encourage people to live elsewhere."


"What should happen is a complete freeze on the development of farming land that is being destroyed around Melbourne and there should be a limitation on the amount of population that comes into Melbourne.  Not by law but by adjusting the market so it pays the real cost of adding to existing infrastructure."

"In other words, when you build a new estate you pay your share of the original water supply - electricity and so on - so in fact prices are allowed to rise and people have a real incentive to go somewhere else if they don't need to be in the metropolis."

Professor Lewis, speaking on Melbourne Day, says that for what was an illegal settlement back in 1835, the city has turned into something very liveable.  "Despite all that illegal history, we somehow became very respectable and very English."

"I like the layers of meaning, history as you walk around. The whole form of Melbourne today, was totally laid down in the first 20 years and it's just got bigger and bigger and bigger in the same shape. You can read all that into it as you walk around today."
"It's more like a big Adelaide than a small Sydney, it has the respectable flat character and none of the dramatic scenery of Sydney but as a liveable city it certainly stacks up."

The football World Cup in South Africa this year will have economic draw backs, not benefits, for its host country says Professor Richard Tomlinson.

"Facts are negotiable when it comes to the World Cup as it relies on the source of the facts and the context that they're put in.  However, its estimated that South Africa has spent about $4.6 billion on the event."  

"I attended a financial modelling conference in the lead up (to the Cup) and the conclusion at the end was that the best we could hope for was that it would not damage the economy, and that circumstance would only arise if costs were kept under control."

"Well, we know costs have spiralled way out of control."

Professor Tomlinson, the head of Urban Planning at the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning, co-edited and contributed to a book on Development and Dreams: the urban legacy of the 2010 Football World Cup.  He says despite this, there will be benefits.

"A lot of what has happened has just been bringing forward in time planned investments in transport and infrastructure, and certainly the public transport upgrade will be, for me, the defining legacy.  For example, the airports now are really first world, they're top class."

Professor Tomlinson says that culture and identity reasons were a prominent part of the government's decision to host the tournament.  "To me, it centres on an African identity, a respect for African culture and a replacement of the typical images of dismay associated with the region; starving children, HIV etc."

"The questions of cultural identity are deeply psychological for most South Africans.  The world media invaribly displays Africa in a negative light, and I think there's a strongly felt need to say 'we can do it, we have a culture that's worth respect'.  It's not just to say we're a fun party place."

The now iconic vuvuzela's however, are not part of this culture he says.

"I think the vuvuzela phenomenon is quite extraordinary.  They aren't made in South Africa, China actually, and the website from which most are sold originated in Israel.  So who benefits?"

"To go back to an African identity theme, the head of FIFA Sepp Blatter has said these are an African games and that's why we're going to have the vuvuzela.  But Africa is bigger than just one country, so I find that an expression of ignorance.  Are we to say that the Moroccans use the vuvuzela? No. Do the Algerians? No."  

"These assertions are just silly."

Australia must do - and more importantly, be seen to do - its bit to reduce greenhouse gas emissions caused by transport, says Professor Nicholas Low, Director of the University of Melbourne-based Australasian Centre for the Governance and Management of Urban Transport (GAMUT).

Speaking ahead of an international conference organised by GAMUT on "Sustainable Transport in the Asia-Indo-Pacific", Professor Low says Australia needs to work harder to move transport planning in the right direction.

"Australia needs to reduce its emissions by a factor of 18 to bring it back to parity with the rest of the world."

"There's no doubt everyone has the same right to mobility, but they thus have the same responsibility to minimise carbon emissions."

"We know India and China want greater mobility and they have the right to it, but this will have consequences not just for climate change but also the future of their own cities."

"I'm not sure whether Australia is yet in a position to lead China and India with regards to transport planning, but it cannot afford to lag behind either."

"The question is, how can we move away from the current, disjointed transport system - buses running for bus customers, trams for tram customers etc - to a system where people are mobility customers, who want a system that serves their mobility needs in the best possible way, and doesn't destroy the city in the process."

Professor Low says one of the issues for Australia is its lack of strong planning systems.  "I think we have to address transport alongside land use planning, but we can't expect land use planning by itself to save us from our transport defects."

"We have to learn to provide better, more integrated transport in the low density cities that we have, much like Europe has."

Melting sea ice has been shown to be a major cause of warming in the Arctic according to a University of Melbourne study. 

Findings published in Nature today reveal the rapid melting of sea ice has dramatically increased the levels of warming in the region in the last two decades.

Lead author Dr James Screen of the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne says the increased Arctic warming was due to a positive feedback between sea ice melting and atmospheric warming.

“The sea ice acts like a shiny lid on the Arctic Ocean. When it is heated, it reflects most of the incoming sunlight back into space. When the sea ice melts, more heat is absorbed by the water. The warmer water then heats the atmosphere above it.“

“What we found is this feedback system has warmed the atmosphere at a faster rate than it would otherwise,” he says.

Using the latest observational data from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasting, Dr Screen was able to uncover a distinctive pattern of warming, highly consistent with the loss of sea ice.

“In the study, we investigated at what level in the atmosphere the warming was occurring. What stood out was how highly concentrated the warming was in the lower atmosphere than anywhere else. I was then able to make the link between the warming pattern and the melting of the sea ice.”

The findings question previous thought that warmer air transported from lower latitudes toward the pole, or changes in cloud cover, are the primary causes of enhanced Arctic warming.

Dr Screen says prior to this latest data set being available there was a lot of contrasting information and inconclusive data.

“This current data has provided a fuller picture of what is happening in the region,” he says.

Over the past 20 years the Arctic has experienced the fastest warming of any region on the planet. Researchers around the globe have been trying to find out why.

Researchers say warming has been partly caused by increasing human greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, the Arctic sea ice has been declining dramatically. In summer 2007 the Arctic had the lowest sea ice cover on record. Since then levels have recovered a little but the long-term trend is still one of decreasing ice.

Professor Ian Simmonds, of the University’s School of Earth Sciences and coauthor on the paper says the findings are significant.

“It was previously thought that loss of sea ice could cause further warming. Now we have confirmation this is already happening.”

Australian humanitarian and military law expert Professor Tim McCormack has been appointed as Special Adviser on International Humanitarian Law to Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Professor McCormack, from the Melbourne Law School at the University of Melbourne will help the Office of the Prosecutor to develop a solid understanding of complex legal issues such as indiscriminate attack, proportionality and command responsibility. He will also provide advice on the application and interpretation of international humanitarian law in relation to crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court, as well as on general principles of criminal law and legal issues related to military structures.

"It's a great honour and a big responsibility, but something that I'm very keen to do," says Professor McCormack.  "I've been involved for twenty years in researching international humanitarian law and enforcement of the violations of that law, as well as the prosecution of war crimes. I've been teaching about it, writing about it and publicly advocating it for a number of years."

"Now to be given this opportunity, it's something I can't say no to, I have to take it up and do the best I can with it."

More information about the announcement can be found at http://newsroom.melbourne.edu/hague.

Professor John O'Toole discusses the purposes and the current progress of the National Curriculum.

Professor O'Toole is the Chair of Arts Education at the University of Melbourne, and lead author of the arts subject area of the National Curriculum.

 

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