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ResearchProject: Ways DNA Goes Wrong to Cause Common Cancers

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http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/u ... 839191.ece


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The full range of genetic mutations that drive 50 types of cancer are to be mapped in a £500 million international project that promises to revolutionise treatment and diagnosis of the disease.

The International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC), which was announced yesterday, will run a cancer equivalent of the Human Genome Project to identify every way in which DNA goes wrong to cause common types of tumour.

Insights from the ambitious initiative, which is hoped to be completed within ten years, will open a new era in personalised cancer medicine, allowing doctors to pinpoint the precise genetic factors that are responsible for the growth and spread of their patients’ tumours.

This will make it easier to select therapies that are most likely to work for individuals with particular kinds of cancer, much as in the way Herceptin and Glivec are already prescribed to patients with certain genetic sub-types of breast cancer and leukaemia.

The project will also contribute to the design of new drugs that home in on genetic weaknesses in cancer cells.

Professor Mike Stratton, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, near Cambridge, which will conduct up to a third of the sequencing, said: “In the past we have had piecemeal views of the cancer genome. With the advent of new, faster DNA sequencing technologies, the ICGC now has set the hugely ambitious aim of fully sequencing thousands of cancer genomes to catalogue all the changes in DNA and obtain a complete picture of the abnormalities that lead to cancer with the aim of improving diagnosis and treatment.”

Although cancer is often triggered by exposure to environmental carcinogens such as cigarette smoke, it is always, at root, a disease of faulty DNA. Genetic mutations, some induced by carcinogens, cause cells to start dividing out of control and then to spread through the body.

Such insights are making it increasingly clear that cancer is not a single disease, as was once thought, or even a collection of 200 or so tumours of particular organs such as the breast, lung or prostate. Each class of cancer includes many different sub-types that are each driven by different combinations of genetic mutations, and which respond differently to therapy.

The new project will take advantage of new DNA sequencing technology to map all the genetic changes that occur in 3 to 5 per cent of up to 50 different cancers. For each of these, scientists will take cells from 500 patients, sequence their genomes, and compare the results with the genetic code of healthy cells. It will then be possible to identify which of the mutations that are revealed actually contribute to the onset and spread of cancer, and which are incidental.

The results of a pilot project, which looked at lung cancer, have been published this week in the journal Nature Genetics.

Each of the 50 cancers will be handled by a separate project, each with a budget of £10 million. Nine countries are already involved.

Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, said: “This new global collaboration is essential to enable a comprehensive approach to cataloguing the mutations that cause cancers in different environments around the world.”

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(TimesOnline, By Mark Henderson, Health Editor, April 30, 2008)


The information contained in these articles may or may not be in agreement with my own opinions. They are not posted as medical advice of any kind.

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