NIH completes in-depth genomic analysis of 33 cancer types

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Researchers funded by the NIH have completed a genomic analysis, known as the PanCancer Atlas, on a data set of molecular and clinical information from over 10,000 tumors representing 33 types of cancer.

The PanCancer Atlas, published as a collection of 29 papers across a suite of Cell journals, sums up the work accomplished by the Cancer Genome Atlas, a collaboration initiated and supported by the NHGRI and NCI, both part of NIH. The program, with over $300 million in total funding, involved upwards of 150 researchers at more than two dozen institutions across North America.

The project focused on cancer genome sequencing, and different types of data analyses, such as investigating gene and protein expression profiles, and associating them with clinical and imaging data.

The PanCancer Atlas is divided into three main categories, each anchored by a summary paper that recaps the core findings for the topic. The main topics include: cell of origin, oncogenic processes, and oncogenic pathways. Multiple companion papers report in-depth explorations of individual topics within these categories.

In the first summary paper, the authors summarize the findings from a set of analyses that used a technique called molecular clustering, which groups tumors by parameters such as genes being expressed, abnormality of chromosome numbers in tumor cells, and DNA modifications. The paper’s findings suggest that tumor types cluster by their possible cells of origin, a result that adds to our understanding of how tumor tissue of origin influences a cancer’s features and could lead to more specific treatments for various cancer types.

The second summary paper presents a broad view of the TCGA findings on the processes that lead to cancer development and progression. Specifically, the authors noted that the findings identified three critical oncogenic processes: mutations, both germline and somatic; the influence of the tumor’s underlying genome and epigenome on gene and protein expression; and the interplay of tumor and immune cells. These findings will help prioritize the development of new treatments and immunotherapies for a wide range of cancers.

The final summary paper details TCGA investigations on the genomic alterations in the signaling pathways that control cell cycle progression, cell death and cell growth, revealing the similarities and differences in these processes across a range of cancers.

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