Know it, to control it

Ongoing Genome Projects on Cancer

Uncontrolled change and growth of cells leads to cancer. All these changes occur at a very basic level in the cells, called genes. Genes are composed of deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA), and contain all information regarding the normal processes of the cells. Any error (mutations) in these genes or information may lead to abnormality of the cells. This abnormality may lead to unwanted cell growth and its ability to spread to it other organs of the body, which is termed as cancer.

Genes present in cancer cells are called as cancer genome. Most of these are similar to genes of normal cells. Some factors like smoking, exposure to chemicals (carcinogens), lifestyle changes may lead to mutations in the genes of the cells, while some mutations are inherited from ancestors.  Cancers caused due to inherited mutations include breast cancer, ovarian cancer, bowel cancer, womb cancer, prostate cancer, retinoblastoma, and non-Hodgkin’s cancer.

It is known that different cancers have different mutations, even tumors in the same organ have different mutations, making cancer treatment difficult. However, at the same time these mutations are unique to their cancers and making genetic fingerprinting possible and eventually opening new avenues for the treatment.

A few of the ongoing genome projects are:

The Cancer Genome Atlas Project (TCGA):

It is a joint initiative of National Cancer Institute (NCI) and National Human Genome Research Institute, started in 2006. As per this initiative, tissue samples from cancer patients in United States are collected and compared with the tissue samples of people who do not have cancer. This helps in mapping mutations in cancer cells, and better understanding of the disease. Genome of lung, ovarian cancer and brain tumors have been studied under this project. This initiative was started with an aim to gain better understanding, of disease in order to drive improvement in cancer diagnosis, treatment and care.

Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments (TARGET) program:

The aim of this program is to map the genetic markers responsible for childhood cancers.

The Cancer Genetic Markers of Susceptibility (CGEMS) project:

It is an initiative of NCI’s division of cancer epidemiology and genetics to identify inherited genes responsible for lung, pancreatic, prostate, breast and bladder cancers.

International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) project:

It is a voluntary scientific organization, providing a forum for collaboration among the world’s leading cancer genomic researchers. It was launched in 2008, with an aim to coordinate cancer genome studies in more than 50 types of cancers prevalent across the globe. India is contributing to the consortium by providing tissue samples of oral cancer and hence making databank for oral cancer genome sequence.

Pediatric cancer genome project:

It is a joint initiative of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Genome Institute at Washington University School of Medicine at St. Louis with an aim to decode genomes of more than 600 childhood cancer patients. It is one of the largest projects with an estimated cost of $65 million. St. Jude serves as one of the largest repositories of biological information for childhood cancers. The collection dates from 1970s till date with more than 50,000 tumors, blood and other biological samples. This tissue bank contributes a lot in understanding of origin of several types of childhood cancers and experimental models for research.