A Revolutionary Project To Identify Cancer Genes
A major initiative aimed at identifying the genes that cause cancer is to be established in the UK. Scientists are setting up a £10 million Cancer Genome Project, which will use the rapidly emerging data from the Human Genome Project to find the gene abnormalities associated with all forms of human cancers. The research will provide vital information for understanding the abnormal biological processes in human cancers and hence assist drug development programmes to combat the disease.
Funded by the Wellcome Trust, the world's largest medical research charity, the Cancer Genome Project will be led by Professor Michael Stratton and Dr Richard Wooster of the Institute of Cancer Research, and sited at the Sanger Centre in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire - already renowned for its leading role in the international Human Genome Project.
The Sanger Centre forms part of an international consortium which is sequencing the DNA of humankind - our genetic blueprint that contains approximately 100,000 genes. This sequence data will provide Professor Stratton and his team with a vital framework on which to build the Cancer Genome Project.
This landmark project will be one of the first examples of how the complete information emerging from the Human Genome Project can be used in understanding human disease. It will provide an opportunity to develop the necessary technology by combining the expertise of biologists and geneticists with the enormous experimental and analytical power of a world leading genome research facility. The technological advances made through the Cancer Genome Project will impact on the study of other human diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
"Abnormalities in DNA sequence underlie the development of all types of cancer. The data emerging from the Human Genome Project will give us the normal blueprint against which we can then compare the DNA sequence in cancers and so work out which genes are abnormal."
Professor Mike Stratton, Institute of Cancer Research
"The daunting challenge is that the human genome sequence is huge, composed of approximately 3,000 million letters of code. This award from the Wellcome Trust will enable us to develop approaches which will allow systematic examination of the whole genome in large numbers of cancers and thus detect as many of the abnormal genes as possible. Ultimately, identification of these genes will highlight the weak points in cancer cells with which we can interfere and treat the disease."
At present, it is impossible to pinpoint the genomic location of many cancer-associated genes and often only large, poorly defined areas on the 'gene map' can be identified as having a link with the disease. The Cancer Genome Project will make use of the entire human genome sequence data generated by the Sanger Centre together with very high throughput mutation detection techniques to adopt a global and systematic approach to the identification of cancer genes.
Given the resources available to the Wellcome Trust and its support of the Sanger Centre, the Trust is in a unique position to offer the facilities for a project which represents a natural progression of the Trust's substantial investment in genomics.
"The Trust is committed to the Human Genome Project at the Sanger Centre and has been since its inception in 1992. With completion of this project scheduled for 2003, we want to ensure that research is directed into exploiting genomic data to maximise potential benefits for the future of healthcare. The Cancer Genome Project is a excellent example of how the research community can use sequencing data and focus on specific disease genes."
Dr Michael Dexter, Director of the Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust's longstanding policy of not funding research that is exclusively based on cancer remains in place. The Trust will continue to provide support for proposals which may include cancer only in the context of exploring fundamental biological questions. In addition, the Wellcome Trust will continue to work in collaboration with funding agencies on research programmes associated with cancer when appropriate.