Researchers compile most complete genetic picture of cancer yet

  • A collaboration of over 1,000 researchers from 37 countries around the world have compiled the most complete picture of all cancers ever produced.

    Cancer is a complex disease to treat due to its wide variety of types and causes, but over 95% of cancerous tumours are caused by one or more genetic errors that make the cells replicate out of control. Your cells also have corrective mechanisms that repair damage to DNA and can cause abnormal cells to self-destruct, but DNA mutations can break all of these mechanisms too.

    Modern cancer treatment is moving toward a more personalised model in which treatment is tailored to the specific DNA mutations that caused a patient's tumour. The mutations that cause certain cancers have previously been identified, but until now we haven't had a single data set including the full genome of affected cells.

    The entire genetic code of 2,658 cancers of various types has now been sequenced by over 1,000 researchers as part of the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes Consortium. This massive data set has provided the most complete picture of DNA damage leading to cancer, and could be used to aid early diagnosis and develop personalised treatment plans.

    The landmark project was described in 22 separate journal papers due to the massive complexity of the project and the wide range of cancer types and mutations involved, with the project published in the journal Nature this week. Key findings include the first ever timelines of genetic mutations causing cancer and a technique to date the mutations that eventually caused a tumour.

    It was found that most cancers were caused by a combination of around four or five separate mutations, and that many of the mutations occurred years or even decades before the tumours developed. This could provide new vectors for attack in the fight against cancer as well as early screening for known mutations that could later develop into cancer.

    Source: BBC News

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