North American scientists this week unveiled a landmark new "Cancer Atlas," detailing genetic links and key clinical information about 33 types of cancer, offering a potential blueprint for new diagnostic tools and treatments.
The ground-breaking project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, caps years of analysis of molecular and genetic features of more than 10,000 tumors.
“This project is the culmination of more than a decade of groundbreaking work,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins, in a press statement unveiling the initiative. “This analysis provides cancer researchers with unprecedented understanding of how, where, and why tumors arise in humans, enabling better informed clinical trials and future treatments.”
Researchers who developed the atlas published a group of 27 papers in several medical journals about the effort, which was part of the The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) — initiated and backed by the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) and the National Cancer Institute.
The $300 million initiative involved more than 150 researchers at more than two dozen institutions across North America.
“TCGA was the first project of its scale to characterize — at the molecular level —cancer across a breadth of cancer types,” said Dr. Carolyn Hutter, Ph.D., director of NHGRI’s Division of Genome Sciences and the NHGRI team lead for TCGA.
“At the project’s infancy 10 years ago, it wasn’t even possible, much less on such a scale, to do the types of characterization and analysis that were being proposed. It was a hugely ambitious project.”
Dr. Jean Claude Zenklusen, Ph.D., director of the TCGA Program Office at NCI, said the project focused not only on cancer genome sequencing, but also on different types of data analyses — such as investigating gene and protein expression profiles, and associating them with clinical and imaging data.
“The PanCancer Atlas effort complements the over 30 tumor-specific papers that have been published by TCGA in the last decade and expands upon earlier pan-cancer work that was published in 2013,” Zenklusen said.
The Cancer Atlas is divided into three main categories — the role of genetic factors in how tumors develop, how cancer cells progress and spread, and genetic that affect tumor progression, growth, and death and cell growth.
“[The] findings reveal new patterns of cancer’s potential vulnerabilities that will aid in the development of combination therapies and personalized medicine,” the researchers concluded.
The NIH is making the Cancer Atlas and related research papers available to researchers, patients, and advocates on the agency’s Website and will host a symposium on key findings in September.
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