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Gene sequencing project mines data once considered 'junk' for clues about cancer
Date:1/24/2013

(MEMPHIS, Tenn. January 24, 2013) Genome sequencing data once regarded as junk is now being used to gain important clues to help understand disease. The latest example comes from the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project, where scientists have developed an approach to mine the repetitive segments of DNA at the ends of chromosomes for insights into cancer.

These segments, known as telomeres, had previously been ignored in next-generation sequencing efforts. That is because their repetitive nature meant that the resulting information had defied analysis and the data were labeled as junk. But researchers have now traced changes in the volume of telomeric DNA to particular types of cancer and their underlying genetic mistakes. Investigators found that 32 percent of pediatric solid tumors carried extra DNA for telomeres, compared to just 4 percent of brain tumors and none of the leukemia samples studied. The findings were published recently in the journal Genome Biology.

Using this new approach, the investigators have linked changes in telomeric DNA to mutations in the ATRX gene and to longer telomeres in patients with a subtype of neuroblastoma, a cancer of the sympathetic nervous system. Telomere length limits how many times cells can divide. Mechanisms that maintain or lengthen telomeres contribute to the unchecked cell division that is a hallmark of cancer.

"This paper shows how measuring the DNA content of telomeres can enhance the value of whole- genome sequencing," said Matthew Parker, Ph.D., the paper's first author and a St. Jude postdoctoral fellow. "In the case of the ATRX mutation, the telomere findings gave us information about the mutation's impact that would have been hard to get through other means."

The results stem from the largest study yet of whole-genome sequencing to measure the content of telomeric DNA. The effort involved whole-genome sequenci
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Contact: Carrie Strehlau
carrie.strehlau@stjude.org
901-595-2295
St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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