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Single Lung Tumor Contains 50,000 Mutations
Date:5/26/2010

Finding throws monkey wrench into idea of individualized therapies, experts say

WEDNESDAY, May 26 (HealthDay News) -- Malignant lung tumors may contain not one, not two, but potentially tens of thousands of genetic mutations which, together, contribute to the development of the cancer.

A sample from a lung tumor from a heavy smoker revealed 50,000 mutations, according to a report in the May 27 issue of Nature.

"People in the field have always known that we're going to end up having to deal with multiple mutations," said Dr. Hossein Borghaei, director of the Lung and Head and Neck Cancer Risk Assessment Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. "This tells us that we're not just dealing with one cell line that's gone crazy. We're dealing with multiple mutations. Every possible pathway that could possibly go wrong is probably found among all these mutations and changes."

The revelation does pose "additional difficulties" for researchers looking for targets for better treatments or even a cure for lung and other types of cancer, said study senior author Zemin Zhang, a senior scientist with Genentech Inc. in South San Francisco.

Frustrating though the findings may seem, the knowledge gleaned from this and other studies "gives investigators a starting point to go back and look and see if there is a common pathway, a common protein that a couple of different drugs could attack and perhaps slow the progression," Borghaei said.

The researchers examined cells from lung cancer samples (non-small-cell lung cancer) belonging to a 51-year-old man who had smoked 25 cigarettes a day for 15 years.

"If you look at the number of cigarettes this person has consumed over his lifetime versus the number of mutations accumulated, for every three cigarettes you have you get a new mutation," Zhang noted.

The researchers were initially surprised to hit upon so many genetic mutations -
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