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Promise and Progress - A Personalized Genetic Profile for Brain Cancer

The Time is Now: 2010-2011

A Personalized Genetic Profile for Brain Cancer

Date: November 11, 2010


Cancer Cell, April 15, 2010
A national network of cancer researchers has used personalized genetic profiling to predict an improved prognosis in brain cancer patients.

The team, which included Kimmel Cancer Center cancer biology and epigenetics expert Stephen Baylin, M.D., identified a set of molecular changes in the brain cancer glioblastoma that correlates with better treatment outcomes.

Working with The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), the team explored genetic and epigenetic alterations in 273 glioblastomas, a highly lethal form of brain cancer. (Genetic alterations change cell behavior by directly mutating its DNA. Epigenetic alterations change cell behavior by altering the chemical environment of its DNA.)

“The ability to differentiate brain tumors based on their altered genetic code lays the groundwork for more effective treatment strategies, such as targeted drug treatments,” says Baylin, the Virginia and D. K. Ludwig Professor for Cancer Research.

The investigators identified a distinct subset of 24 glioblastomas with heavy areas of methylation, a process in which biochemicals called methyl groups are added to certain DNA sequences.  Patients tended to be younger at diagnosis and had significantly longer survival times. In addition to the methylation, the cancers had distinct molecular features, including a high frequency of IDH1 gene mutations.

"The depth and breadth of expertise in The Cancer Genome Atlas research network, combined with ever-improving genomic technologies, is generating remarkably detailed insights into cancer,” says NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

Ongoing TCGA research projects are focused on genetic and epigenetic alterations in ovarian, lung, and colon cancers.

This study was funded by the National Cancer Institute and grants from the Brain Tumor Funders’ Collaborative, the V Foundation and the Rose Foundation.

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