A healthy human genome is characterized by 23 pairs of chromosomes, and even a small change in this structure — such as an extra copy of a single chromosome — can lead to severe physical impairment. So it's no surprise that when it comes to cancer, chromosomal structure is frequently a contributing factor, says Professor Ron Shamir of the Blavatnik School of Computer Science at Tel Aviv Universitu (TAU). Now Professor Shamir and his former doctoral students Dr. Michal Ozery-Flato and Dr. Chaim Linhart, along with fellow researchers Professor Shai Izraeli and Dr. Luba Trakhtenbrot from the Sheba Medical Center, have combined techniques from computer science and statistics to discover that many chromosomal pairs are lost or gained together across various cancer types. Moreover, the researchers discovered a new commonality of chromosomal aberrations among embryonic cancer types, such as kidney, skeleton, and liver cancers. These findings, published on June 29, 2011 in Genome Biology, could reveal more about the nature of cancer. As cancer develops, the genome becomes increasingly mutated — and identifying the pattern of mutation can help us to understand the nature and the progression of many different kinds of cancer, says Professor Shamir. As cancer progresses, the structure of chromosomes is rearranged, individual chromosomes are duplicated or lost, and the genome becomes abnormal. Some forms of cancer can even be diagnosed by identifying individual chromosomal aberrations, notes Professor Shamir, pointing to the example of a specific type of leukemia that is caused by small piece of chromosome 9 being moved to chromosome 22. When analyzing many different kinds of cancer, however, the researchers discovered that chromosomal aberrations among different cancers happen together in a noticeable and significant way.
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