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Project Achilles pinpoints vulnerabilities in ovarian cancer
Date:7/11/2011

Cancer is not invincible but its weaknesses can be difficult to detect. An effort known as Project Achilles named after the Greek warrior whose one vulnerability led to his undoing was launched to develop a systematic way of pinpointing these weak spots. In their largest and most comprehensive effort to date, researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute examined cells from over 100 tumors, including 25 ovarian cancer tumors, to unearth the genes upon which cancers depend. One of these genes, PAX8, is altered in a significant fraction of ovarian tumors nearly one-fifth of those surveyed in the study. Their results appear online July 11 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"In this project, we're looking for all of the Achilles' heels of cancer. That is to say, we're looking for any instance where you inactivate a gene and affect the survival of cancer cells," said William Hahn, a senior associate member of the Broad and an associate professor at Dana-Farber and Harvard Medical School. The researchers silenced or suppressed thousands of genes using short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs), which offer a way to predict the effect of a drug or therapy that targets individual genes.

Recently, researchers involved in another major cancer project, The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), reported that 1,800 genes in the ovarian cancer genome are repeatedly amplified, or present in extra copies. The Project Achilles team silenced more than 10,000 genes in its search for those that are needed for cancer cells to grow and survive. By harnessing the TCGA data, the researchers could rapidly pinpoint which of these 1,800 genes are essential to ovarian tumor growth.

Hahn describes the convergence of these two projects at the Broad Institute as representing a fundamental change in cancer research. "Not only can we characterize what genes are mutated or altered, but we can also simultaneously asses
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Contact: Nicole Davis
ndavis@broadinstitute.org
617-714-7152
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Source:Eurekalert

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