Clues to Treating Cancers Found in Genomes

Clues to Treating Cancers Found in Genomes

Two biotech companies recently announced that sequencing the human genome–each person’s individual DNA blueprint–would soon be possible to do within a single day and for approximately $1,000.

The day following this announcement, researchers at renowned St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, TN, and Washington University in Saint Louis, MO, reported that sequencing the genomes of patients with cancer might lead to better treatments.

In one study, the researchers discovered that 12 patients with early T-cell precursor acute lymphoblastic leukemia had more in common genetically with a different type of leukemia than with other acute lymphoblastic leukemias. This research is a part of the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, which is a three-year effort to sequence 600 pediatric cancers and the normal DNA of the children who have them.

St. Jude Chief Executive Dr. William Evans told the Los Angeles Times Booster Shot blog that “We want to understand: What mutations cause a normal cell to turn into cancer?”

In the other study involved in the project, researchers sequenced the tumors of four children with retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer. The results pointed to a gene known as SYK, which could be targeted for treating the disease. If the gene could be turned off, perhaps the growth of cancer could be reversed in patients.

Evans expressed hope that someday all children coming into St. Jude for cancer treatment would have their genomes sequenced to look for clues to curing the disease. The price of tests continues to fall, and with the data available to other scientists at the Explore Web data portal, researchers everywhere will hopefully be able to make gains in treating childhood cancers.

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