Harvard Medicine

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Here Be Dragons

A range of cancer types share a surprising number of genomic errors.

Cancers spring in large part from changes in the numbers of copies of specific regions of the genome, according to research by an HMS team from the Dana–Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT. The team discovered this shared heritage by assembling a genome-scale map of more than 3,000 specimens of 26 cancer types. The map showed that, compared with genetic material from normal tissue, the DNA from the profiled tumor types had more than a hundred sites of missing or duplicated genetic information in common. The universality of the shared errors surprised the researchers.

“The degree to which so many alterations are shared,” says team leader Matthew Meyerson ’89, “suggests that, in the future, a driving force behind cancer treatment will be common genomic alterations, rather than tumors’ tissue of origin.”

Meyerson, an HMS professor of pathology at Dana–Farber and a senior associate member of the Broad Institute, adds that the continuing technological advances will make it possible to “decode the genomes of thousands of cancers and reveal every genomic change.”

The study, published in the February 18, 2010, issue of Nature, sheds light on the molecular bases of cancers, information useful to research on more effective therapies.

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