For the first time, scientists have decoded the complete DNA of a cancer patient and traced her disease - acute myelogenous leukemia - to its genetic roots. A large research team at the Genome Sequencing Center and the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis sequenced the genome of the patient - a woman in her 50s who ultimately died of her disease - and the genome of her leukemia cells, to identify genetic changes unique to her cancer.
The study is reported in the Nov. 6 issue of the journal Nature.
The pioneering work sets the stage for using a more comprehensive, genome-wide approach to unravel the genetic basis of cancer. "Our work demonstrates the power of sequencing entire genomes to discover novel cancer-related mutations," says senior author Richard K. Wilson, Ph.D., director of Washington University's Genome Sequencing Center. "A genome-wide understanding of cancer, which is now possible with faster, less expensive DNA sequencing technology, is the foundation for developing more effective ways to diagnose and treat cancer."
The researchers discovered just 10 genetic mutations in the patient's tumor DNA that appeared to be relevant to her disease; eight of the mutations were rare and occurred in genes that had never been linked to AML. They also showed that virtually every cell in the tumor sample had nine of the mutations, and that the single genetic alteration that occurred less frequently was likely the last to be acquired. The scientists suspect that all the mutations were important to the patient's cancer.
Like most cancers, AML - a cancer of blood-forming cells in the bone marrow - arises from mutations that accumulate in people's DNA over the course of their lives. However, little is known about the precise nature of those changes and how they disrupt biological pathways to cause the uncontrolled cell growth that is the hallmark of cancer.
|Contact: Caroline Arbanas|
Washington University School of Medicine