What You Need to Know About Mapping the Cancer Genome

Three new studies examine genes linked to brain and pancreatic tumors.

Video: Learning About Cancer

Video: Learning About Cancer

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If not new treatments, then what?


More immediately, this kind of genetic mapping is likely to help characterize patients' tumors. Perhaps one type, sparked by a particular mutation, is more likely to respond to one therapy than another. Knowing that could help doctors decide which drug is the best to use for each individual patient. Also possible are new diagnostic techniques for identifying cancer earlier, though those, too, are years down the line. What's the downside of mapping the entire cancer genome?


Some scientists question if the proposed effort is worth its anticipated price tag. At the very least, they argue that other strategies, such as looking at genes in tumors that aren't mutated but are still required for the cancer's survival, should be pursued in parallel to a cancer genome mapping effort. That's Elledge's view of things (his research lies within that alternative approach). The genome work is "bearing some fruit," he says. "The question is whether this fruit is worth the price." Christopher Logothetis is chairman of the department of genitourinary medical oncology at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and a member of the external scientific committee for the TCGA. He says the new study was a successful pilot. "It demonstrated we could get people together, drive down the cost, find tissue, and learn something." Now, he says, it's time to figure out how to characterize the cancer genome, given limited resources, and whether it's best done by the public sector, private sector, or both.