Emory University researchers will participate in a National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored project analyzing the molecular basis of cancer called the Cancer Genome Atlas. Erwin G. Van Meir, PhD, co-director of Emory Winship Cancer Institute's brain tumor program and director of the laboratory for molecular neuro-oncology, was recently chosen by the NIH to supply samples and associated clinical history to support an unprecedented effort at cataloguing genetic alterations in glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain cancer. A goal of Emory Winship's brain tumor program is to identify characteristic features of subtypes of brain cancer, enabling doctors to design targeted treatment.
"We are honored to join with other distinguished laboratories in identifying specific fingerprints for different kinds of brain tumors," says Van Meir.
The Cancer Genome Atlas asks patients to contribute cancer tissue and blood samples, which will be analyzed for alterations in DNA and which genes are turned on or off. The project aims to collect a total of 500 cases per tumor type.
"Patients who agreed to contribute their tissue really made a selfless donation to science that will benefit generations to come," says Van Meir. "We are very grateful for their generous act.
"This is the human genome project for cancer, it is very exciting and will have far-reaching implications for the public," Van Meir continues. "The Cancer Genome Atlas is also expected to find new gene defects associated with cancer development, new targets for treatment and improve the understanding of risk and prevention in brain cancer."
Emory Winship Director Brian Leyland-Jones, MD, PhD, says, "This is an area of investigation that will transform cancer treatment in the next decade. We have already seen the potential in separating breast cancers into subtypes and designing targeted therapies for the subtypes. With the information catalogued by the Cancer Genome Atlas, I expect doctors will be able to extend that idea to other types of cancer."
A three-year pilot project, involving 10 academic medical centers across the United States, is focusing on brain, lung and ovarian cancers. The core Emory TCGA team also comprises Daniel J Brat, MD, PhD, professor in Emory School of Medicine's Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Gena Marie Mastrogianakis, MD, project manager. Other institutions contributing to the glioblastoma collection are: Duke University, Henry Ford Hospital System, Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson Cancer Center and University of California at San Francisco.
The Cancer Genome Atlas is jointly sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute, both part of the National Institutes of Health.