A cancer genomics study led by UNC Lineberger researchers and other scientists involved in The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) project, a National Cancer Institute and National Human Genome Research Institute-backed effort to create a comprehensive atlas of the genetic changes in cancer, was selected as one of the top 10 clinical research achievements of the year. The project characterized molecular changes in 12 different cancers and revealed a new approach to classifying cancers.
UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers played leading roles in a cross-cancer genomics study that has been selected as one of the nation’s top 10 research achievements of the year.
In findings published in the journal Cell in August of 2014, researchers with The Cancer Genome Atlas network revealed a new mechanism for classifying cancers. The project was led by UNC Lineberger researchers along with scientists from other project sites collaborating as part of TCGA, a National Cancer Institute and National Human Genome Research Institute-backed effort to create a comprehensive atlas of the genetic changes in cancer.
The study was selected as one of the year’s 10 most outstanding research papers by the Clinical Research Forum. The awardees were recognized April 16 during the forum’s fourth annual awards ceremony in Washington D.C.
“I applaud the researchers recognized for their groundbreaking clinical research that will advance new treatments to reduce suffering and bring hope to millions of people,” said NIH Director Dr. Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “And I’m especially proud that NIH funding makes these advances possible.”
The 10 winning papers were chosen based on their degree of innovation from a pool of more than 50 nominations from 30 research and academic health centers nationwide.
The forum and its supporters believe these papers represent the best and brightest work in the field, and will lead to advancements in medicine that will change lives and patient outcomes worldwide.
Award-winning paper topics included: advancing immune therapy, advancing gene therapy, targeting pediatric cancer, treating depression in pregnancy, improving stroke care, standardizing pediatric antibiotic use, rethinking sleep apnea therapy, combating HIV and saving sepsis patients.
In the award-winning TCGA pan-cancer study, researchers analyzed more than 3,500 samples from 12 different cancer types.
Part of what made the study unique, said Charles M. Perou, PhD, a UNC Lineberger member, professor of genetics, pathology and laboratory medicine at the UNC School of Medicine and a co-corresponding author of the paper, was that the researchers analyzed multiple genomic characteristics of the tumors. For example, they analyzed both the patterns in the tumors’ DNA, as well as in the RNA, which is the genetic code that carries instruction from DNA for making proteins.
“What set the TCGA project apart from similar genomic projects is that we actually had six different, very diverse and broad-reaching genome analysis technologies that we could use to study tumors’ molecular characteristics,” Perou said.
The study’s analysis found that the samples divided into 11 main groups, with some cancers from the same tissue of origin breaking into different groups, and others cancers from different tissue origin sites converging into a single group.
Katherine Hoadley, PhD, research assistant professor in genetics and a co-first author of the paper, said the findings suggest that tissue of origin may not always be as useful for classifying cancers as the type of cell from where the cancer originated. She also said the findings could have implications for treatment.
“We found about 10 percent of samples probably should not have been classified based on tumor site alone, suggesting that the treatment decisions might have been different for that percentage of patients that did not classify based on tissue type alone,” she said.
The Clinical Research Forum advocates for increased respect for the field, which members hope will translate to sustained financial support from the NIH, academia, foundations and other donors.
“The better our clinical research, the greater our ability to diagnose, treat and prevent illness,” said Herbert Pardes, co-chairman of the Clinical Research Forum Board of Directors.