The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center Brain Tumor Program is among the first three centers chosen for a pilot study to determine if a reliable atlas can be made for the genetic changes that eventually lead to certain forms of cancer. Researchers believe that a better understanding of the genetic alterations that lead to cancer will enable the discovery and development of a new generation of therapeutics, diagnostics, and preventive strategies for many types of cancer.
In the pilot study, M. D. Anderson researchers will contribute to efforts to understand the genes that may be responsible for the development of glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of primary brain tumor. For brain tumors, findings from the atlas may lead to personalized cancer treatment, therapy that is based on a tumor’s specific genetic alterations, says Kenneth Aldape, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Pathology at M. D. Anderson, who oversees the tumor bank.
Not only will M. D. Anderson contribute the biological material that will define glioblastoma’s genome, the institution’s researchers also will be involved in investigating the data that emerges, searching for the genes that turn normal brain cells into cancer, Aldape says.
“We want to correlate genetic and genomic alterations to outcome and response to therapy,” adds W. K. Alfred Yung, M.D., chair of the Department of Neuro-Oncology. “Identifying specific gene alterations will help us select the appropriate single or combination targeted therapies for individual patients.”
Genes involved in two other lethal cancers, lung and ovarian cancer, also will be studied in the initial $100-million pilot phase of the project, known as The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA).
The TCGA project is designed to identify key genomic alterations, such as gene copy changes and/or chromosomal rearrangements that may contribute to the development or progression of cancer. These selected genes will be examined further for the specific mutations that make them dangerous. Then the findings will be put into a comprehensive atlas of molecular information describing genomic changes in all types of cancer.