In a paper published today in the international research journal Nature, more than 200 members of the International Cancer Genome Consortium describe how they hope to use genomic sequencing to inform the development of personalised treatments for cancer patients.
Professor Terry Speed, head of the institute’s Bioinformatics division and one of the paper’s authors, said the consortium would use new genome analysis technologies to produce comprehensive catalogs of the genetic mutations involved in the world’s major cancer types.
“That information will be used by cancer researchers to develop new and better ways of diagnosing, treating and preventing cancer,” he said.
The International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) was formed in 2008 and involves the world’s leading cancer and genomics researchers working together to identify the genetic changes that occur in 50 of the most common cancers. They are doing this by sequencing the genomes of 500 tumours of each of the 50 nominated cancers.
“One of the difficulties with cancer is that every tumour has a different combination of mutations – some have pieces missing from their genomes, some have additional pieces or their chromosomes are combined in the wrong way,” Professor Speed said.
“In the past, with the limited data available, each tumour – although different – would be dealt with using general treatments. But advances in genome sequencing are giving researchers a far better understanding of tumour genomes, raising the possibility of personalised cancer treatments that directly target the tumour’s genetic machinery.”
Professor Speed said next-generation sequencing technologies had made it possible to look for common genetic features occurring in a particular cancer’s genome. “If, for example, we find a deletion that is common to many pancreatic cancer genomes, we can look at the clinical information of the patients from which these tumours were taken and determine the impact of that genomic deletion on their survival,” he said.
“In the longer term we’ll be able to relate such genomic features to drug treatments –the anomaly might be well targeted by a particular drug.”
The Australian arm of the consortium is tackling pancreatic cancer, the fourth most common cause of cancer death. The team is being led by Professor Sean Grimmond from the University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience and Professor Andrew Biankin from the Garvan Institute of Medical Research. Professor Speed will work with the team to refine the methods used to analyse the genomic data.
He will also be assisting the Indian members of the ICGC with their data analysis of oral cancers and, through his membership of the 35-member ICGC Bioinformatics Analyses Working Group, will be involved in several other cancer genome sequencing projects.
Worldwide, about 7.5 million people die of cancer each year and more than 12 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed. The World Health Organization estimates the number of global cancer deaths will increase 45 per cent from 2007 to 2030 (from 7.9 million to 11.5 million deaths), influenced in part by an increasing and ageing global population. New cases of cancer in the same period are estimated to jump from 11.3 million in 2007 to 15.5 million in 2030.
Australia’s contribution to the ICGC is largely being funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council.
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