Scientists identify brain cancer genes

ByABC News
September 7, 2008, 5:54 PM

— -- Scientists have found a group of broken, missing and overactive genes involved in the most common form of brain cancer, the National Institutes of Health announced today. Scientists say they hope the findings will lead to new ways to diagnose and treat the disease.

The new study, published online in Nature, come from the Cancer Genome Atlas, a three-year, $100 million pilot program to discover the genes involved in lung, brain and ovarian tumors. Mapping all the cancer genes called the cancer genome could take 10 years and an estimated $1.5 billion.

For the brain cancer study, scientists analyzed tumor samples from more than 200 patients with tumors called glioblastoma multiforme. Reseachers at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center performed a parallel study of 22 glioblastoma samples, published today in Science.

Finding the mutations is important, researchers say, because it could allow them to design a drug that blocks those specific mutations. That could allow them to "personalize" cancer therapy, by tailoring drugs to the specific mutations that drive an individual's cancer. That's a big change from today, in which doctors mostly give the same chemotherapy to everyone.

Doctors are racing to develop "targeted" therapies for many types of cancers. They want to give patients the most effective drugs right away ones tailored for the particular mutations in their tumors instead of wasting precious time with medications that aren't a good fit.

Scientists say the brain tumor project also has given them a clue to why some patients become resistant to a common chemotherapy.

An estimated 21,000 Americans will be diagnosed with brain cancer this year, according to the NIH, and more than 13,000 will die from it. Glioblastoma multiforme is especially aggressive, killing most patient within 14 months.