Genomes Aid Therapies for Two Cancers -- St. Jude: Project Paying Off

By Charlier, Tom | The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN), January 12, 2012 | Go to article overview

Genomes Aid Therapies for Two Cancers -- St. Jude: Project Paying Off


Charlier, Tom, The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN)


Two years after they helped launch the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, scientists at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital said the landmark $65 million initiative already has identified promising new approaches for treating eye tumors and a particularly aggressive form of leukemia.

In studies appearing Wednesday and today in the journal Nature, St. Jude researchers reported what they said were significant discoveries about the genetic alterations that give rise to retinoblastoma and an acute lymphoblastic leukemia known as early T- cell precursor ALL. By showing how the cancers develop and spread, the studies point to therapies that could control and cure them.

The findings were generated by the genome project, initiated in January 2010 by St. Jude and Washington University in St. Louis. The largest effort of its kind to date, the project involves decoding the genomes - the full complement of genetic material, mainly the set of chromosomes and the genes they carry - of more than 600 St. Jude cancer patients who have donated tumor and healthy tissue samples.

St. Jude also announced Wednesday it has established a data website called "Explore" - explore.pediatriccancergenomeproject.org - where published results from the genome project will be freely available.

The discoveries announced this week show that the comprehensive, unbiased approach employed in the genome project can yield "a number of new discoveries that were totally unexpected," said Charles G. Mullighan , an associate member of St. Jude's Department of Pathology and one of the authors of the study on the leukemia subtype.

The findings about retinoblastoma were especially surprising. The disease is found each year in 5,000 children worldwide, most of them aged 5 or younger. Although 95 percent of patients are cured if tumors are removed before they spread, the disease can require radiation or removal of the eye. …

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