Hunt for cancer ‘tipping point’ heats up

Heidi Ledford in Nature:

WEB_C0349668-Breast_biopsy-SPLDatabases worldwide are rapidly swelling with the sequences of thousands of cancer genomes. Now, some scientists are advocating that researchers shift their focus back in time: to study the DNA of tumours in their adolescence, before they commit to being cancerous. At the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting in Washington DC, researchers gathered on 2 April to discuss the growing call to sequence the genomes of pre-cancerous lesions — abnormal growths that sometimes progress into full-blown cancers. The results could help researchers to determine which tumours warrant treatment and could aid the development of therapies to block cancers on the path to malignancy. It is a project that is now near the top of the cancer research wish list, says oncologist Elizabeth Jaffee of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “This is something that has really taken off throughout the cancer community,” she says.

The idea could be one of the next 'big science' projects for cancer. The idea is to borrow some tactics — such as coordination among scientists and sequencing centres — from The Cancer Genome Atlas, one of the first and biggest cancer genome efforts, which characterized the genomes of 33 cancers using samples from more than 11,000 people. But the new 'Pre-Cancer' Genome Atlas would also study cancers over time. It would ideally include multiple snapshots of the same tumour as it developed, in the hope that researchers will be able to determine what changes pushed it across a tipping point to become cancerous.

More here.