FEB 14, 2020 11:07 AM PST

Cataloging Cancer: DNA fingerprints at work

New research published as part of a global Pan-Cancer Project highlights the world’s most comprehensive catalog to date of DNA fingerprints of cancer drivers. The research was published in Nature alongside 22 additional studies from the Pan-Cancer Project, which represents an unprecedented international collaboration of over 1,300 scientists and clinicians from 37 countries, analyzing over 2,600 genomes of 38 different tumor types. The goal of the project is to better understand cancer genomes in order to improve the mechanisms of cancer development and anti-cancer treatments.

The study in question comes specifically from a collaboration between scientists at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, Duke-NUS Medical School Singapore, University of California San Diego School of Medicine, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. The list they have developed of genetic fingerprints of DNA-damaging processes that drive cancer development will allow scientists within the Pan-Cancer Project to better investigate previously unknown chemicals, biological pathways and environmental agents responsible for causing cancer.

Professor Gad Getz, a senior author from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and Massachusetts General Hospital, said, "The availability of a large number of whole genomes enabled us to apply more advanced analytical methods to discover and refine mutational signatures and expand our study into additional types of mutations. Our new collection of signatures provides a more complete picture of biological and chemical processes that damage or repair DNA and will enable researchers to decipher the mutational processes that affect the genomes of newly sequenced cancers."

The mutational signatures that Professor Getz refers to are the specific genetic fingerprints that many known causes of cancer leave as damage. Identifying these mutational signatures is crucial to exploring how cancers develop and how they can be prevented.

The Pan-Cancer Project provides the largest database yet of mutational signatures. Photo: Pixabay

Professor Steven Rozen, a senior author from Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore, said: "Some types of these DNA fingerprints, or mutational signatures, reflect how cancer could respond to drugs. Further research into this could help to diagnose some cancers and what drugs they might respond to."

This study is key because it adds to the limited catalog of mutational signatures previously known. While we only know the causes of roughly half of the mutational signatures, more data allows for improved analysis to search for trends and patterns in cancer development. The researchers contributing to this project aim to help understand the causes of cancer in order to inform prevention strategies, cancer diagnosis, and treatments.

Sources: Nature (1) (2) (3), Science Daily

About the Author
BA Environmental Studies
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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