Largest Ever Cancer Genome Study Could Help Find and Treat Cancers Early On

The findings reveal information about gene mutations that increase tumor growth.
Fabienne Lang

Scientists have been researching and studying cancer treatment for years. Cancer, where autonomous and uncontrolled tumors spread into tissues, has killed countless people worldwide. 

The largest study of its kind, the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) project, published its findings in the journal Nature on Wednesday. 

This research could help detect and treat cancer early on. 


A massive amount of researchers on the case

Revealing unprecedented levels of genetic variation to do with tumor growth, the study included 1,300 scientists and clinicians around the world. These researchers analyzed 2,658 samples of whole genomes for 38 types of cancer.  

These thousands of scientists dug into the data that had been previously freely shared on databases by other researchers.

As cancer is a disease that sees a tumor begin to grow autonomously because of genetic mutations in the cells bringing on problems with healthy tissues, comprehensive analyses of the entire cancer genome have been on researchers' list for years. 

Previous cancer studies of cancer genomes have focused on exon regions that encode proteins as a means of saving costs and keeping it as easy as possible. However, these regions only represent one small part of the cancer genomes.

In the PCWAG project, vast amounts of data were studied across multiple data centers, and the computing power to process it was huge. Researchers of the study report that cloud computing development assisted in the advancement of this project.

On top of the genome analysis of cancer, the project also had a system whereby each research group could freely analyze the data available in the database.

The teams discovered that each tumor had four to five driver mutations on average. In this study, researchers were able to find at least one driver mutation in roughly 95% of the tumor samples. That's a solid increase from just 67% found from exon sequencing. 

Most Popular

This means that a higher number of cancer patients can now be matched to a drug that directly targets the protein made by that driver gene. 

Peter Cambell of the Wellcome Sanger Institute said "It’s certainly true that this kind of sequencing will not mean that all cancers are cured. But it points us to where we should be thinking about developing drugs for preventing resistance or treating it once it arises."