NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) — According to the results of a Cancer Genome Project study run by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, more mutated genes drive cancer development than was previously thought.
The results of the study, which are published in the March issue of Nature, also show that each cell type carries many other ‘passenger’ mutations.
The researchers sequenced more than 250 million letters of DNA code, including more than 500 genes and 200 cancers, including colorectal, stomach, breast, and lung cancers.
Some of the kinase proteins involved in the study were previously tagged as possible causes of cancer.
The Sanger researchers found that cancer mutations can be slotted into two groups, which they call ‘drivers’ and ‘passengers.’
The 120 driver mutations the researchers identified feed the growth of a cancer cell, while the passenger mutations are ‘co-travelers’ that offer nothing to the growth of the cancer cells.
“It turns out that most mutations in cancer are passengers,” Cancer Genome Project co-leader Andy Futreal said in a statement. But because of the discovery of “larger numbers of driver mutations than was previously anticipated” buried within the passengers, the Sanger study proposes that “many more genes contribute to cancer than was previously thought.”
Sanger suggests that identifying which genes are which, drivers or passengers, will be a central challenge to researchers.
NHGRI Director Francis Collins said the “important and interesting data on protein kinases in this report … encourages the conclusion that a full assault on the cancer genome will yield many opportunities to revolutionize diagnosis and treatment.”