Examining 12 major types of cancer, scientists at Washington University School of Medicine have identified 127 repeatedly mutated genes that appear to drive the development and progression of a range of tumors in the body. The discovery sets the stage for devising new diagnostic tools and more personalized cancer treatments.
The research, published Oct. 17 in Nature, shows that some of the same genes commonly mutated in certain cancers also occur in seemingly unrelated tumors. For example, a gene mutated in 25 percent of leukemia cases in the study also was found in tumors of the breast, rectum, head and neck, kidney, lung, ovary and uterus.
Based on the findings, the researchers envision that a single test — one that surveys errors in a swath of cancer genes — eventually could become part of the standard diagnostic workup for most cancers. Results of such testing could guide treatment decisions for patients based on the unique genetic signatures of their tumors.
While earlier genome studies typically have focused on individual tumor types, the current research is among the early studies to look across many different types of cancer.
“This is just the beginning,” said senior author Li Ding, PhD, of The Genome Institute at Washington University. “Many oncologists and scientists have wondered whether it’s possible to come up with a complete list of cancer genes responsible for all human cancers. I think we’re getting closer to that.”
Researchers analyzed genes from 3,281 tumors — a collection of cancers of the breast, uterus, head and neck, colon and rectum, bladder, kidney, ovary, lung, brain and blood.