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NCI, NHGRI to Kick Off Pilot Cancer Genome Project Next Week

NEW YORK, Dec. 9 (GenomeWeb News) - The National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute said yesterday that they will outline their plans for a cancer genome pilot project at a press conference on Dec. 13 in Washington, DC.


In August, the NCI and the NGRI committed $50 million each to kick-start the three-year pilot project. A full-scale Human Cancer Genome Project, if approved, is expected to run for 10 years and cost approximately $1.5 billion.


In August, the agencies said that the three-year pilot phase would "analyze whether the comprehensive cataloguing of the sequence changes in cancer will prove useful in understanding cancer and lead to new methods of diagnosis and treatment."


There has been speculation in the scientific community regarding the ability of the Human Cancer Genome Project to meet its ambitious goals. In August, Lee Hood, president of the Institute for Systems Biology, called the proposal "naïve," because "the signal-to-noise issues ... from sequencing cancer genomes on six or seven dimensions are absolutely enormous."


Two months later, in a open letter published in the journal Science, Stephen Elledge of HarvardMedicalSchool and Gregory Hannon of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory suggested that the HCGP may not be the best use of federal research money. Previous studies based on genome resequencing "call into question whether a massive sequencing effort, estimated to be 75 percent of the entire $1.5-billion price tag, is going to produce a harvest of useful information that matches its huge budget," they wrote.


In a response published in today's issue of Science, however, Harold Varmus of MemorialSloan-KetteringCancerCenter and Bruce Stillman of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory argued that the HCGP would be well worth the investment.


"We recognize that resequencing is still difficult and expensive, that costs may decline in the future if we wait for methods to improve, and that tests for chromosomal translocations and epigenetic changes may not yet be ready for high-throughput use," Varmus and Stillman wrote. "Furthermore, budget projections for the NIH imply that the costs of the HCGP will require some reductions in other activities."


Nevertheless, they added, "we contend that the cancer research community now needs a much better description of the genetic damage that drives human cancers; this will form the basis for all future studies of cancer in the laboratory and the clinic and will provide immediate benefit for molecular diagnosis of human cancers."

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