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Wash U Maps Genomes Of Two Major Cancers, Could Impact Treatment

Benjamin Raphael, Brown University

In separate studies both published today, researchers at Washington University mapped the genomes of two types of cancer: endometrial cancer, and acute myeloid leukemia.

Both studies are part of The Cancer Genome Atlas project, an effort funded by the National Institutes of Health to study the genetic basis of 20 major human cancers.

Washington University genomicist Elaine Mardis helped lead the study on endometrial cancer, which affects the lining of the uterus.

Mardis, who co-directs The Genome Institute at Washington University, says she and her colleagues identified several new subtypes of the disease that will probably require different types of treatment.

They also found that the most deadly form of endometrial cancer, known as serous, is genetically similar to severe types of ovarian and breast cancer.

“And what we propose in the paper is that moving forward, these three tumor types might be studied together in clinical trials, to effect a better cure rate for women with one of the three types of cancer,” Mardis said.

Mardis' study on endometrial cancer is published in the journal Nature.

A second study, on acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow, was co-led by Washington University physician scientist Tim Ley and Richard Wilson, who directs The Genome Institute with Elaine Mardis.

Ley says he and his colleagues sequenced the DNA and associated genetic products of AML tumor cells and compared them to those of healthy tissue. They identified mutations and also looked at gene expression — whether or not the genes were producing proteins.

“It’s created a treasure-trove of new information about the disease, about the mutations that cause it, about how they interact, and what their consequences are for patients,” Ley said.

He says it could take more than a decade to analyze all the data, but that eventually the information from this study could be used to guide treatment decisions, like whether or not patients need risky and expensive stem cell transplants.

Ley's study on acute myeloid leukemia is published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

You can find more information on U.S. cancer cases here.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience

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