A landmark study across many cancer types reveals that the universe of cancer mutations is much larger than previously thought. By analyzing the genomes of thousands of patients' tumors, a Broad Institute-led research team has discovered many new cancer genes — expanding the list of known genes tied to these cancers by 25 percent. Moreover, the study shows that many key cancer genes still remain to be discovered. The team's work, which lays a critical foundation for future cancer drug development, also shows that creating a comprehensive catalog of cancer genes for scores of cancer types is feasible with as few as 100,000 patient samples. "For the first time, we know what it will take to draw the complete genomic picture of human cancer," said Broad Institute founding director Dr. Eric Lander, a senior co-author of the paper. "That's tremendously exciting, because the knowledge of genes and their pathways will highlight new, potential drug targets and help lead the way to effective combination therapy." Over the past 30 years, scientists had found evidence for about 135 genes that play causal roles in one or more of the 21 tumor types analyzed in the study. The new report not only confirms these genes, but, in one fell swoop, increases the catalog of cancer genes by one-quarter. It uncovers 33 genes with biological roles in cell death, cell growth, genome stability, immune evasion, as well as other processes. The researchers' results appear in print in the January 23, 2014 issue of Nature. "One of the fundamental questions we need to ask ourselves is: Do we have a complete picture yet? Looking at cancer genomes tells us that the answer is no: there are more cancer genes out there to be discovered," said the paper's first author Dr. Mike Lawrence, a computational biologist at the Broad.
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