UNC-led genetic analysis reveals new cancer classification method

Aug. 07, 2014 @ 05:42 PM

An effort to analyze the DNA of thousands of cancer tumors led by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill cancer researchers has revealed a new way of classifying types of cancer, according to a news release.

Much of the research since 2006 has classified cancer according to the type of tissue in which it originates, such as breast, lung or colon tissue, according to a release from the UNC-Chapel Hill Office of News Services.

But a recent analysis by The Cancer Genome Atlas found that cells are more likely to be genetically similar based on the type of cell in which the cancer originated.

A paper on the project was published online Thursday in the scientific journal Cell.

“We found that one in 10 cancers analyzed in this study would be classified differently using this new approach,” said Chuck Perou, a professor in genetics and pathology, a UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center member and senior paper author. “That means that 10 percent of the patients might be better off getting a different therapy – that’s huge.”

As part of The Cancer Genome Atlas project, researchers analyzed more than 3,500 tumors across 12 different tissue types to see how they compared to one another, according to the release.

It was the largest data set of tumor genomics ever assembled, Katherine Hoadley, research assistant professor in genetics and lead paper author, said in the release.

The classification system may impact strategies for developing cancer treatments.

Under the former cancer classification system, treatments were tailored to which tissue was affected.

But there have been questions raised because some treatments work and some fail, even when a single tissue type is tested.

The new classification approach may shift to focus more on the development of drugs targeting larger groups of cancers with genomic similarities, as opposed to a single tumor type.

The Cancer Genome Atlas is a comprehensive, collaborative effort led by the National Inistutes of Health, according to the organization’s website.

The goal of the group, which involves researchers across the nation, is to map genomic changes in major types and subtypes of cancer.

A pilot project launched in 2006 and was followed by an announcement in 2009 for an effort to map the genomes of at least 20 cancers across five years.

TCGA makes its data swiftly available to the worldwide research community for use in developing better ways of diagnosing, treating and preventing cancer.

As participants in The Cancer Genome Atlas, UNC Lineberger scientists have been involved in multiple individual tissue-type studies.