TCGA: The Cancer Genome Atlas

Cancer is a complex disease that impacts the lives of millions of Americans. Even though we have come to understand a great deal about the biology of cancer, there is still a critical need to improve our ability to diagnose, treat and prevent this widespread disease.

Genomics in cancer

Cancer originates from changes in the genome that allow a specific cell population to grow more quickly than normal cells. The importance of genomics in the study of cancer has prompted the initiation of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) project, a comprehensive and coordinated effort to accelerate our understanding of the molecular basis of cancer through the application of genome analysis technologies, including large-scale genome sequencing.

The McDonnell Genome Institute at Washington University has focused many of its research efforts on providing a comprehensive genomic characterization of cancer and has been an active participant in TCGA from the start, discovering several key genes, mutations and their functional impacts in cancer.

Launched jointly in 2005 by the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute, TCGA began as a three-year pilot program to study lung, brain and ovarian cancers. The project has since grown in size to include thousands of tumor samples, spanning more than twenty types of cancers.

The main goal is to assess and analyze molecular differences between tumor and normal tissues across a large number of patient samples, while quickly providing data to the larger cancer research community.

Groundbreaking effort

The McDonnell Genome Institute, along with institutions across the nation, are playing a key role in this groundbreaking cancer research effort, performing functions ranging from the collection and banking of tissue samples to molecular characterization to high-throughput sequencing and complex statistical analysis. Data from TCGA will help provide researchers and clinicians with an early glimpse of an “atlas” of genomic changes from all types of cancer. This will ultimately enable researchers throughout the world to analyze and use this data to develop a new generation of targeted diagnostics, therapeutics, and preventives for all cancers, and will pave the way for more personalized cancer medicine.

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