The Mutations That Kill: 1st Cancer Genomes Sequenced

By Brett Israel | December 17, 2009 6:27 pm

dna-sequence-webThe genomes of lung and skin cancer have been decoded by scientists at the UK-based Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge, which is the first time an entire cancer gene map has been created.

The scientists say they have pinpointed specific DNA errors that may cause tumors in these two cancers, both of which have direct known causes—smoking for lung cancer and sun exposure for skin cancer. Researchers predict these maps will offer patients a personalized treatment option that ranges from earlier detection to the types of medication used to treat cancer. The genetic maps will also allow cancer researchers to study cells with defective DNA and produce more powerful drugs to fight the errors, according to the the study’s scientists [CNN]. News reports are heralding the new research as revolutionary, however it will be years, perhaps decades, before the full implications of the work are understood.

The lung cancer and skin cancer studies, which were published in the journal Nature, found the DNA code for a skin cancer called melanoma contained more than 30,000 errors almost entirely caused by too much sun exposure. The lung cancer DNA code had more than 23,000 errors largely triggered by cigarette smoke exposure [BBC News]. The bullet point grabbing most headlines is that the scientists say for every 15 cigarettes a person smokes, they acquire a new mutation in their DNA. Not all of those mutations will be in areas of a person’s DNA related to cancer, but some will.

According to Mike Stratton, of the Cancer Genome Project at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, “these catalogues of mutations are telling us about how the cancer has developed, so they will inform us on prevention. They tell us about all the processes which are disrupted in cancer cells, which we can try to influence through our treatments. So this is a really fundamental moment in the history of cancer research. I can envisage a time a decade or more hence when these catalogues will become routine, and influential in selecting treatment for that individual. That’s what we’re expecting—every cancer patient will have one of these charts” [London Times]. However, just because scientists now possess this genetic information, it doesn’t necessarily mean a cure for cancer is around the corner. The sequencing of the human genome almost 10 years ago had many researchers giddy about the possibility of personalized medicine and gene therapy, but it’s been much harder to translate the genomic data into treatments than many anticipated.

The study is a part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium, which involves countries around the world working on similar cancer-genome-sequencing projects. The UK is looking at breast cancer; the U.S. at brain, ovary, and pancreatic cancer; China at stomach cancer; Japan at the liver; and India at mouth cancer. The completion of all this work is at least five years—and several hundreds of thousand dollars—into the future, say the researchers.

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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Kok Siong Chen

    It is too good to hear this successful study! However, i would rather to see people stop from smoking and look after the body health. Prevention is always better than cure! Anyway, thanks for sharing! It is still a good news for the world!

  • Sara

    This statistic is so striking: “The bullet point grabbing most headlines is that the scientists say for every 15 cigarettes a person smokes, they acquire a new mutation in their DNA. Not all of those mutations will be in areas of a person’s DNA related to cancer, but some will.”

    I can’t believe people still smoke, even with all the knowledge we had before this!

    I hope that this inspires individuals to quit – and if not, then I hope that this will open the doors to better and more effective treatments.

  • ashtrays and alka seltzer

    Personal choice is an American hallmark. A pack of cigs, booze, poor diet and dance partner choices, out of control breeders, speeders, bicyclists without helmets, yuck mouths, porkers, and religious nuts will all lead to someones early death. Without a little flavor, we’d be living longer lives in a vanilla and card board world. I’d rather shave 3 years off my life and eat some foi gras, smoke that joint, and enjoy a martini. If I am not harming you, kindly tax my vices, and (blank) off.

  • Bill J

    Gimme a pack 0f Camels & a fifth of Jack Daniels, please!!

  • chandrak

    How about lung cnacer in non smokers?Scientific research in not looking at fungus molds and others carcinogens!!They should.

  • Sugaroo

    I am not my brother’s keeper nor do I want anyone to be mine! Seems like everyday a new “cause and effect” is found for the human condition! Worse, we’ve become sheep at the hands of the “nannies” in power who want (and do) control our choices in life. Vote them out of office is what I say!!!! Nothing like fear mongering and sadly, the U.S. has ascended to the top. MYOB is my mantra!!


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