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M. D. Anderson’s Brain Tumor Bank Joins Federal Program to Map Changes in Malignant Brain Tumors


10/06/06 - The National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute recently announced that The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center Brain Tumor Program is among the first three centers chosen for a pilot study to determine if a reliable atlas can be made for the genetic changes that eventually lead to certain forms of cancer.

Researchers believe that a better understanding of the complex genetic alterations that lead to cancer will enable the discovery and development of a new generation of therapeutics, diagnostics and preventive strategies for many types of cancer.

In the pilot study, M. D. Anderson researchers will contribute to efforts to understand the genes that may be responsible for the development of glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of primary brain tumor. Genes involved in two other lethal cancers, lung and ovarian cancer, also will be studied in the initial $100 million pilot phase of the project, known as The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA). The Lung Cancer Tissue Bank housed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Gynecologic Oncology Group Tissue Bank located at the Children’s Hospital of Ohio State University were also selected to participate in the pilot study to provide specimens for the other two cancers.

“Glioblastoma is a heartbreaking disease because it is not curable and only minimally treatable,” says Kenneth Aldape, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Pathology at M. D. Anderson, who oversees the tumor bank. “This exciting program gives us the opportunity to examine glioblastomas gene by gene, uncovering changes that will help us design new molecular therapies.”

For brain tumors, findings from the atlas may lead to personalized cancer treatment, therapy that is based on a tumor’s specific genetic alterations, Aldape says.

“We want to correlate genetic and genomic alterations to outcome and response to therapy,” adds W. K. Alfred Yung, M.D., chair of M. D. Anderson’s Department of Neuro-Oncology. “Identifying specific gene alterations will help us select the appropriate single or combination targeted therapies for individual patients.”

Not only will M. D. Anderson contribute the biological material that will define glioblastoma’s “genome,” the institution’s researchers also will be involved in investigating the data that emerges, searching for the genes that turn normal brain cells into cancer, Aldape says.

An estimated 18,820 new cases of brain cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year and 12,820 patients will die from the disease. Glioblastomas, also called grade IV astrocytomas, are the most frequently occurring type of brain cancer, and are nearly always rapidly fatal. M. D. Anderson’s Brain Tumor Program is among the largest in North America, Aldape says.

The brain tumor bank at M. D. Anderson began in the late 1980s, and now has more than 6,000 tumor specimens. With the patient’s consent, the tissue is flash frozen and stored in racks placed in large tanks of liquid nitrogen. Aldape says each sample is or can be cataloged with treatment and outcome patient data.

The TCGA project is designed to identify key genomic alterations, such as gene copy changes and/or chromosomal rearrangements that may contribute to the development or progression of cancer. These selected genes will be examined further for the specific mutations that make them dangerous. Then the findings will be put into a comprehensive “atlas” of molecular information describing genomic changes in all types of cancer.


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