Feb 26, 2012

The year they will crack cancer?

     This is the provocative title of a wonderful article by Geoffrey Carr in The Economist.  The cost of sequencing a human genome has come down from billions to thousands of dollars over the last two decades.  Genetic mutations are the cause of many cancers.  Normal human cells are “well behaved” and grow only when needed, but when they lose the breaks on their growth, they become pre-cancerous and finally develop into invasive cancer.  See our post on the hallmarks of cancer.  We know what a few of these genetic defects are.   
    This knowledge is important.  It has already produced revolutionary new therapies like Gleevec for chronic myelogenous leukemia.  The trouble is that cancer cells acquire many such defects and to make matters worse, carry many other defects that really don’t matter much.  Today we often find ourselves staring at one cancer defect that we can target with a drug but having little knowledge about what else in the same cancer is propelling its growth.  To answer these tough questions, we must decode all of the mutations in many cancer samples.  Mutations that occur over and over again in many individual cancers will likely be the important ones, the drivers.  Those that show up at random, are probably the bystanders.  
     To tackle this enormous task, a group of sequencing labs around the world has formed the International Cancer Genome Consortium.  They intend to sequence several hundred samples of 50 different cancers.  As of last fall, 39 labs had signed up and more will come.  The work is to be finished by 2015, but expect results to start coming in by the end of 2012.  

To put a smile on your face see Larry's latest cartoon

(c) 2012 Tom Beer and Larry Axmaker

No comments:

Post a Comment