Apr 29, 2008 08:00 AM
The International Cancer Genome Consortium, one of the largest global research endeavours since scientists cracked the human genome, plans to catalogue the genetic changes found in 50 of the most common cancers within the next decade.
Experts say the project will help researchers uncover the genetic roots of cancers, a feat which will likely lead to new ways to diagnose, treat and prevent the disease.
The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), located in Toronto, will host the international consortium’s secretariat and will house its data coordination centre.
Ontario, which has already committed $30 million to the consortium, gave the project another boost today with an additional $10 million.
John Wilkinson, Ontario’s Minister of Research and Innovation, said the consortium is a textbook example of how the province, through strategic investments in research, can be a global innovation leader.
“It’s clear the ability to solve global problems is through collaboration,” he said. “Researchers from around the world have decided to join together to crack the genomics of the 50 most common cancers that plague mankind.”
The consortium has an open invitation for any research organization to participate and already has project commitments from nearly 10 countries, including China, France, India and the United States.
Each project will tackle a specific type of cancer and must agree to the consortium’s policies and contribute at least $20 million to sequence 500 unique samples.
Dr. Tom Hudson, scientific director and president of the institute and an executive member of the consortium’s interim executive committee, said cataloguing the genetic mutations involved in 50 types of cancer is too large a project to be undertaken by one country alone.
The consortium’s goal to map 50 cancer genomes is 25,000 times larger than the output of the Human Genome Project, he said.
Ontario researchers, coordinated by OICR, plan to map the genetic mutations involved in pancreatic cancer. Hudson said the decision to analyze pancreatic cancer was influenced by both Ontario’s critical mass of top-notch researchers in the area and the need to find answers for a deadly cancer.
“We wanted to go after a very tough cancer,” he said. “It has had improved the least in its survival rates in the last 20 years and the mortality rate is very high.”
Dr. Lincoln Stein, a world leader in genome informatics, was recruited to the OICR from the U.S. and will lead the consortium's data coordination centre, which is predicted to be the largest health informatics database in the world.
Studying cancer genomes will help scientists understand the complex biological mechanisms that cause cancers to grow and spread throughout the body.
Hudson said the project may also help pinpoint environmental factors, including viruses, that contribute to different cancers.