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The Cancer Genome Atlas pinpoints 127 mutations driving cancer growth

21 October 2013

By Dr Naqash Raja

Appeared in BioNews 727

Common gene mutations link 12 cancer types such as blood, colon and kidney, research from Washington University School of Medicine, USA, has shown.

The project, which forms part of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) effort, analysed more than 3,000 tumour samples from a collection of cancers including breast, lung, kidney and ovary and identified {mutations in 127 genes as the drivers of the disease.

Most tumours were observed to be the result of two to six genetic mutations. 'While cells in the body continually accumulate new mutations over the years, it only takes a few mutations in key driver genes to transform a healthy cell into a cancer cell', explained senior scientist Dr Li Ding.

This study strengthens the idea that cancers can be classified by their molecular characteristics rather than their location in the body (as reported in BioNews 724). For example, the study found that a particular gene mutation present in 25 percent of leukaemia cases was also found in other tumour types, including cancers of the rectum, head and neck, and lung.

A link between gene mutation and predicted outcome for the patient was also identified. Mutations in the TP53 gene were associated with a poor prognosis in 42 percent of samples including kidney cancer and acute myeloid leukaemia. In contrast, mutations in the BRCA2 gene were linked with improved survival in ovarian cancer.

'Many oncologists and scientists have wondered whether it's possible to come up with a complete list of cancer genes responsible for all human cancers. I think we're getting closer to that', envisages Dr Ding. 'This is just the beginning'.

This research, along with other TCGA studies, raises the hope of developing more effective diagnostic tools and treatments.

Dr Ding added: 'Because we now know, for example, that genes mutated in leukemia also can be altered in breast cancer and that genetic errors in lung cancer also can show up in colon and rectal cancer, we think one inclusive diagnostic test that includes all cancer genes would be ideal. This would provide a more complete picture of what's going on in a tumour, and that information could be used to make decisions about treatment'.

The report was published in the journal Nature.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Bloomberg Businessweek | 16 October 2013
 
CNet | 16 October 2013
 
EurekAlert! (press release) | 16 October 2013
 
Nature | 17 October 2013
 
Wall Street Journal | 16 October 2013
 

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