Genetic fingerprints could help identify cancer-causing culprits

Genetic fingerprints could help identify cancer-causing culprits

Causes of cancer are being cataloged through an international study revealing the genetic fingerprints of DNA-damaging processes that drive cancer development. Researchers from University of California San Diego School of Medicine, Wellcome Sanger Institute, Duke-NUS Medical School Singapore, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, with collaborators around the world, have created the most detailed list yet of these genetic fingerprints, providing clues to how each cancer develops. These fingerprints will allow scientists to search for previously unknown chemicals, biological pathways and environmental agents responsible for causing cancer. We identified almost every publically available cancer genome at the start of this project and analyzed their whole genome sequences. The data from these thousands of cancers allowed us to describe mutational signatures in much more detail, and we are confident that we now know most of the signatures that exist." Ludmil B. Alexandrov, PhD, first author, assistant professor of in the departments of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and Bioengineering at UC San Diego The research, published on February 5, 2020 in Nature as part of the global Pan-Cancer Project, will help delineate the causes of cancer, inform prevention strategies and define new directions for cancer diagnoses and treatments. In the United States, the National Cancer Institute estimates 1.7 million new cases of cancer were diagnosed in 2018 and more than 600,000 people died from the disease. Approximately 38 percent of men and women in this country will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Cancer is caused by genetic changes -- mutations -- in the DNA of a cell, prompting the cell to divide uncontrollably. Many known causes of cancer, such as ultraviolet light and tobacco use, leave a specific fingerprint of damage in the DNA, known as a mutational signature. These fingerprints can help understand how cancers develop, and potentially how they might be prevented. However, past studies have not been large enough to identify all potential mutational signatures. Related Stories



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