Public Release: 

Collaboration between researchers yields more comprehensive portrait of brain cancer

HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology

Huntsville, Ala. -- A team including researchers at the HudsonAlpha Institute and Stanford University, together with colleagues from a number of other organizations, today publishes a comprehensive analysis of genomic variation in the brain cancer glioblastoma. These results are the first from the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) research network, a collaborative effort funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health. Glioblastoma is the most common and most aggressive of the primary brain tumors: Notably, U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy was diagnosed with glioblastoma earlier this year.

Drs. Devin Absher and Rick Myers, with their labs at HudsonAlpha and Stanford, measured changes in the genetic code of both normal and cancer samples. They specifically looked at regions that either gained or lost large chunks of DNA, larger than 1000 bases, to determine the molecular differences between a normal and glioblastoma genome. The data were analyzed in collaboration with Drs. Gavin Sherlock and James Brooks at Stanford, and Dr. Jun Li at the University of Michigan.

Tumors generally accumulate gains and losses in DNA as they grow, and measuring these changes in a number of samples can illuminate which changes are necessary for tumor development. Targeting genes affected by these changes can lead to improved diagnosis and more specific therapies, with fewer side effects to normal cells in the brain.

The HudsonAlpha and Stanford data on genomic changes were integrated with data from institutions around the country measuring changes in other types of genomic variation and in epigenomic variation. Epigenomic variation refers to molecules that are added to our genome to regulate how genetic instructions are processed in the cell. We know these changes are important to cancer cells, but previous studies have not integrated genomic and epigenomic measurements on such a large scale.

According to Absher, "This is a paradigm shift in how cancer is analyzed. These comprehensive genomic and epigenomic analyses on a set of common tumors stringently assessed by research organizations across the country will ideally increase our fundamental understanding of cancer, and help us develop better diagnostic tools and treatments."

Myers added, "The excitement in this study is the integration of so many teams, taking multiple ways of measuring our genome and producing such a broad picture of cancer genetics. My laboratory at HudsonAlpha plans to continue studying cancer genetics, working with local physicians as well as our important collaborators at Stanford and Michigan."

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The TCGA team's discoveries are outlined in a paper published September 4, 2008, in the advance online edition of the journal Nature. An abstract is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature07385.

About HudsonAlpha

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Ala., is the cornerstone of the Cummings Research Park Biotechnology Campus. The campus hosts a synergistic cluster of biotechnology talent - science and business professionals - that promises collaborative innovation to turn knowledge and ideas into commercial products and services for improving human health and strengthening Alabama's progressively diverse economy. The non-profit institute is housed in a state-of-the-art, 270,000 square-ft. facility strategically located in the nation's second largest research park. HudsonAlpha has a three-fold mission of genomic research, economic development and educational outreach.

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