Stanford asked to join cancer genome effort

In a nod to Stanford's expertise in high-throughput genomics, the School of Medicine has been designated as one of seven schools nationwide to become a Cancer Genome Characterization Center.

This collaboration, announced on Oct. 16, is one component of the Cancer Genome Atlas Pilot Project, started as a joint project of the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute.

The collaborators in the cancer genome project are using large-scale genomic analysis to find genetic changes in lung, brain and ovarian cancers. The goal of the $11.7 million-per-year project is to locate new targets for cancer therapies.

"It's exciting to be chosen as a center," said Richard Myers, PhD, professor of genetics, who is leading Stanford's portion of the effort.

Myers, who is also director of the Stanford Human Genome Center, said his group's role would be to harness its high-throughput genotyping capabilities to locate chromosomal abnormalities in the tumor samples. These might include additions or deletions of large chromosomal segments or other rearrangements that are thought to be important in tumor development.

NCI director John Niederhuber, MD, said, "The atlas holds the potential to help turn what we know into what we can harness—to be able to study changes in a patient's genetic sequence over time and then use that information to design highly targeted, individually based interventions."

One possible outcome of the work could be the ability to classify cancers by genetic abnormalities. For example, Myers' group may identify several different chromosomal rearrangements present in ovarian cancer samples. If women with one rearrangement fare significantly worse than other women with the disease, then doctors may be able to offer more aggressive treatment to women whose tumors share that feature.

Information from all centers will be made publicly available by the project's data unit.

The six other CGCCs are Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University, the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, a joint effort between the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and another collaborative center involving Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital.