The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), both parts of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have launched a comprehensive effort to accelerate their understanding of the molecular basis of cancer through the application of genome analysis technologies, especially large-scale genome sequencing.
The overall effort, called The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), will begin with a pilot project to determine the feasibility of a full-scale effort to systematically explore the universe of genomic changes involved in all types of human cancer.
"Now is the time to move forward with this pioneering initiative. Thanks to the tools and technologies developed by the Human Genome Project and recent advances in using genetic information to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment," said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D.
"It is now possible to envision a systematic effort to map the changes in the human genetic blueprint associated with all known forms of cancer."
"This atlas of genomic changes will provide new insights into the biological basis of cancer, which in turn will lead to new tests to detect cancer in its early, most treatable stages; new therapies to target cancer at its most vulnerable points; and, ultimately, new strategies to prevent cancer."
NCI and NHGRI announced at a news conference in Washington, D.C., that they have each committed $50 million over three years to the TCGA Pilot Project.
The project will develop and test the complex science and technology framework needed to systematically identify and characterize the genetic mutations and other genomic changes associated with cancer.
The pilot will involve a few types of cancer that will be chosen for their value in helping to determine the feasibility of a possible larger-scale project.
"The goal of studying the human genome has always been to improve human health," said National Human Genome Research Institute Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.
"The Cancer Genome Atlas Pilot Project represents another bold step in that direction."
"Such an ambitious venture requires significant planning. Given the genetic complexity of cancer, we are certain to face many daunting challenges in this pilot."
"But by pulling together some of the best minds in the cancer and genomics research communities, I am confident that the pilot will succeed, and we will go on to develop an atlas that will accelerate cancer research in ways we cannot even imagine today."
NCI Deputy Director Anna D. Barker, Ph.D., said, "The Cancer Genome Atlas Pilot Project is a revolutionary step in cancer medicine that leverages advances in cancer biology, genomics technologies, biorepositories, and bioinformatics for the ultimate benefit of cancer patients."
"Key challenges for the TCGA Pilot Project include not only addressing cancer's complexity, but also developing the technologies to advance the science of cancer genetics."
"A better understanding of cancer genetics is part of the overall effort to eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer."
In the TCGA Pilot Project, a Human Cancer Biospecimen Core Resource will support the collection, processing, and distribution of cancerous and healthy, control tissue samples to Cancer Genome Characterization Centers and Genome Sequencing Centers.
The genes and other genomic targets identified will be sequenced by the Cancer Genome Sequencing Centers using high-throughput methods similar to those employed in the Human Genome Project.
The Cancer Genome Atlas Pilot Project seeks to identify genetic mutations in the DNA code that are specifically associated with the type of cancer being sequenced.
The data from TCGA Centers will be deposited in public databases supported by NCI's cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG™) and the National Library of Medicine's National Center for Biotechnology Information.
As in the Human Genome Project, TCGA data will be made available to the worldwide research community. This atlas will enable researchers throughout the world to analyze and use the data in their own research to develop new diagnostics and therapies for different cancers.