The Pan-Cancer Atlas: “The End of the Beginning”

Yesterday, a series of 27 papers representing the most comprehensive genomic analysis of human cancers to date was published in Cell Press journals.

The collection constitutes the final outputs from the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) project, a collaboration between the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) involving analysis of over 11,000 tumors representing 33 different cancers. The many research teams involved analyzed tumor DNA, mRNA, miRNA and chromatin, comparing them to matched normal cellular genomes to perform a complete molecular characterization of cancer-specific changes. The results have been presented with much hope that open access to this type of comprehensive analysis will build on recent advances in understanding tumor biology and spur further progress in developing new approaches to treatment. (See this news item for more detail).

The Pan-Cancer Atlas results are collected on a portal, where they are presented in three collections grouped by topic: Cell of Origin, Oncogenic Processes and Signaling Pathways. Each collection is accompanied by a “Flagship” paper introducing the topic and summarizing the findings. It seems fitting that these findings have been published in #HumanGenomeMonth. This comprehensive analysis of the genomic and metagenomic profiles of tumors illustrates one powerful application of the type of genomic analysis pioneered by the original Human Genome Project, and shows just how much has been made possible since the initial publication of the human genome fifteen years ago. Continue reading

Magnetic Bacteria Carry Drugs into Tumors

cancer cellAt first glance, the biology of magnetic, underwater-dwelling, oxygen-averse bacteria may seem of little relevance to our most pressing human health problems. But science is full of surprises. A paper published this week in Nature Nanotechnology presents an inspired use of these bacteria to deliver anti-cancer drugs to tumors, specifically targeting the oxygen-starved regions generated by aggressively proliferating cells. Continue reading

Amino Acid Analogs as Possible Cancer Drugs

HeLa cells stained with Hoechst 33258. By TenOfAllTrades (From English wiki 1.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Scientists look in unusual places for potential anticancer treatments. I have reviewed papers that investigated the possibility that dandelion root may harbor anticancer treatments, milk fat may moderate cancer metastasis and the effects of chemotherapy, and black raspberry extract may even prevent cancer. Sometimes, research avenues come down to an observation about what a tumor cell needs to grow and exploring the idea that molecular analogs might be a tool to block cancer growth. For the work reported in Drug Design, Development and Therapy, analogs of the amino acid glycine, specifically glyphosate and aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), the degradation product of glyphosate, were used to explore this idea in cancer cell lines. Continue reading

Shining a Bright Light on Deep Questions in Biology with Bioluminescence

artists view inside a cellA quick search of the PubMed database for “dual luciferase” quickly returns over 1,000 papers. The Dual-Luciferase® Reporter Assay is a powerful tool that allows researchers to ask a multitude of questions about gene control and expression in a system that itself could be normalized and internally controlled. For more than 15 years, firefly and Renilla luciferases have been valuable tools for researchers asking many different kinds of questions in the life sciences. In a recent webinar, Biologically Relevant Assays for Oncology: Harnessing the Power of Bioluminescence, Neal Cosby discussed how bioluminescent chemistries have formed the basis of a range of powerful assays and research tools for scientists who are asking questions about the deep and complex genetic and cellular story associated with cancer. Here we talk a bit of about bioluminescent chemistries, some of the newest bioluminescent tools available, and how some of these tools can be used to probe the deeper questions of cell biology, including cancer biology. Continue reading

Apoptosis in Normal and Cancer Cell Biology Webinar

webinarCurious about the role that apoptosis plays in normal and cancer cell biology? Do you need to monitor apoptosis in cells? Do you need to know what apoptosis biomarkers to follow for a particular study? Register today for the Science/AAAS Webinar: Apoptotic Signaling in Normal and Cancer Cell Biology (sponsored by Promega).