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The largest ever cancer study helps develop precision medicine

Published on 6.2.2020
Tampere University
Steve Bova/ Kuva: Jonne Renvall
Tampere University’s Prostate Cancer Research Center participated in an international project that charted the most comprehensive map of cancer genomes to date. In the photo, Professor Steve Bova is presenting cancer data. Photograph: Jonne Renvall
Professor Steve Bova from Tampere University participated in the largest ever cancer study whose results were published in early February in more than 20 international scientific journals.

The results from the international Pan-Cancer Project are currently helping guide work on developing precision medicine approaches also at Tampere University.

The research project has produced the most comprehensive mapping of the human cancer genome to date. As a result of the project, the causes of many previously untreatable cancers were identified. At the same time, the project is pointing the way to cancer diagnosis and treatment for years to come.

More than 1,300 researchers and clinicians from 37 countries participated in the Pan-Cancer Project. The study analysed over 2,600 cancer genomes from 38 different types of cancer. The project produced a catalogue on the mutations of the cancer genome that formed the basis for the work of 16 teams that investigated multiple aspects of cancer’s development and causation.

Previous studies focused on the 1 per cent of the genome that codes for proteins. The Pan-Cancer Project explored in considerably greater detail the remaining 99 per cent of the genome, which include key regions that control switching genes on and off.

The Pan-Cancer Project has made available a comprehensive resource for cancer genomics research, including the raw genome sequencing data and software for cancer genome analysis.

The project expanded and developed methods for analysing cancer genomes. By applying these methods to its large dataset, the project discovered new knowledge about cancer biology and confirmed important findings of previous studies.

“This work is helping to answer a long-standing medical difficulty, why two patients with what appear to be the same cancer can have very different outcomes to the same drug treatment.  We show that the reasons for these different behaviours are written in the DNA. The genome of each patient’s cancer is unique, but there are a finite set of recurring patterns, so with large enough studies we can identify all these patterns to optimise diagnosis and treatment,” said Dr. Peter Campbell, Head of Cancer, Ageing and Somatic Mutation at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK.

At Tampere University, the project was carried out by the Prostate Cancer Research Center at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Technology. One of the Center’s focus areas is research on identifying the mutations of the prostate cancer genome. The long-term goal is to develop precision medicine treat these cancers.