Mapping the Cancer Genome

A pilot project has been launched by the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute to map the genomic sequences of human cancers.

The Cancer Genome Atlas project, which aims to analyze the genomic sequences of cancers, recently started work on its initial project.

In this pilot phase of this project lung, brain and ovarian cancers will be studied. These types of cancers were chosen as the initial cases because specimens of these cancers are relatively simple for researchers to obtain.

Once the specimens are collected, hundreds will be analyzed with multiple technologies, including genome sequencing. Once sequenced, they will be compared to the normal DNA sequence from the same patient to identify changes associated with cancer.

"The Cancer Genome Atlas will use cutting-edge technologies and knowledge from the Human Genome Project and other genomic studies to assess the range of genomic changes that cause the uncontrolled cell growth that characterizes cancer," explained National Human Genome Research Institute Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

The National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute originally launched the project in December 2005 as a three-year pilot project to test the feasibility of using large-scale genome analysis technologies to determine the genomic changes involved in cancer.

When fully operational, The Cancer Genome Atlas will consist of four parts: a BCR (Biospecimen Core Resource); Cancer Genome Characterization Centers; Genome Sequencing Centers; and a Principal Bioinformatics Resource.

The International Genomics Consortium, part of the Translational Genomics Research Institute, of Phoenix, Ariz., was selected to establish and manage the biospecimen collection and storage process.

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Still to be selected: the Cancer Genome Characterization Centers, which will analyze samples to identify key genomic alterations; the Genome Sequencing Centers that will use high-throughput technology to identify small genomic changes; and the Principal Bioinformatics Resource responsible for powering the IT behind the analysis required for the project.

"Cancer is exceedingly complex, and includes more than 200 different diseases," notes John Niederhuber, acting NCI director.

"The overall goal of The Cancer Genome Atlas is to delve more deeply into the genetic origins that lead to this complexity, in order to enable the discovery and development of a new generation of therapies, diagnostics, and preventive strategies for all cancers"

This initial pilot project may provide "the results we need to detect cancer early, in its most treatable stage, and provide new targets for the development of specific therapies," Niederhuber said.

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