2/10/2010 - Massive undertaking seeks to identify all genetic mutations

February 1, 2010

What's touted as the biggest effort ever to find all of the genetic mutations that cause childhood cancer is now under way.

"For the first time in history, we have the tools to identify all of the genetic abnormalities that form a white blood cell into a leukemia cell or a brain cell into a brain tumor," says Dr. William Evans, chief executive officer of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, which is leading the three-year, $65 million effort that could help develop new treatments for pediatric cancers that strike more than 10,000 American children under 14 every year.

"We're going to be able to look at cancer in a way we've never been able to do," says Evans. "It will be like going from a pair of glasses to a microscope."
The privately funded project will complement the Cancer Genome Atlas, an eight-year National Institutes of Health initiative focusing largely on adult malignancies, says NIH director Dr. Francis Collins.

"The long-term dream is that this will uncover a list of powerful new drug strategies that we didn't know about," Collins says.

Scientists will draw on tissue samples taken from 600 young patients treated at St. Jude, sequencing all of the DNA from their tumors and normal cells, Evans says.
They'll take a "whole-genome approach," looking not just at the children's 20,000 or so genes but also at long stretches of DNA between genes. This material -- once called "junk DNA" -- makes up 98.5 percent of the genome and could influence how genes are turned on and off, Collins says.

Gannett News Service

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