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Scientists to sequence hundreds of prostate tumours

1 August 2011
Appeared in BioNews 618

Two new initiatives have been launched by Cancer Research UK, aiming to increase the understanding of prostate and oesophageal cancers which will speed up the development of personalised treatments for patients.

Samples from 500 oesophageal tumours and 500 prostate tumours from patients in the UK and Canada will be taken and their genetic sequences determined. Comparing them to healthy tissues will reveal changes in the genes, providing the researchers with information about the causes of the cancers.

'The number of people diagnosed with oesophageal cancer each year is increasing rapidly in the UK, and only eight percent of patients will survive at least five years', said Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald, who is leading the oesophageal cancer International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) project at the University of Cambridge. 'We urgently need to know more about the underlying causes of the disease and what determines whether a patient will respond to a treatment'.

One of the major challenges of treating cancer is deciding which treatment to give each patient. Although some tumours grow slowly, some aggressive tumours develop and spread quickly - these require more intense treatments.

Armed with the knowledge from these projects, scientists will be able to exploit weaknesses in the cancers by designing specific therapies for each patient, depending on the genetic mutations they find.

Professor Ros Eeles and Professor Colin Cooper are leading the prostate cancer study at the Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. 'By knowing the genetic differences we may be able to identify which men are at higher risk, so we can target treatments to those patients and potentially save thousands from unnecessary therapy', said Professor Eeles.

She continued: 'The more aggressive prostate cancers can become resistant to our current treatments. Knowing the genetic make-up of such prostate cancers will help us take a targeted approach to developing new treatments for these cancers that would otherwise kill the patient'.

Despite over 17,000 people dying from the diseases in the UK each year, very little is known about how these cancers develop. This pioneering work, funded by the Dallaglio Foundation and Cancer Research UK, is part of the UK's contribution to the ICGC, the goal of which it is to create genomic maps of 50 different tumour types.

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