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Genomics

In contact with the doctors

New project faces new forms of therapy and diagnosis of cancer

After basic science comes the application. Based on the information generated by the Human Cancer Genome, a project financed by FAPESP and by the Ludwig Institute, the Clinical Cancer Genome is beginning to take shape. Announced publicly on the 20th of December, it should be able to depend on the participation of researchers from the State of São Paulo who work in clinical and surgical activities related to oncology. The objective is to develop new forms of diagnostics and treatment. The inscription for the new groups will be open until the end of February (more information at the electronic address www.fapesp.br).

In almost two years, the Human Cancer Genome team accumulated one million sequences of genes active in diverse types of tumor – of the breast, of the stomach, of the head and neck, of the colon and of the prostate, among others. “The types of tumors to be worked upon in Clinical Genome will not obligatorily be the same as those of the Human Genome.” said Dr. Marco Antonio Zago, a researcher at the Faculty of Medicine of Ribeirão Preto (FMRP) of the University of São Paulo (USP) and one of the coordinators of the project. “The definition of the areas of study will depend on the demands of the groups who present themselves.”

The teams incorporated into the project – coordinated by a clinical researcher or surgeon preferentially linked to the research institutions – are going to participate in two manners. The first will be by way of sending the tumor samples, which will be stored and analyzed by the laboratories of the Human Cancer Genome Project and the second by accompanying the clinical state of the patients. By associating the analysis of the RNA, the molecule of ribonucleic acid, through which the genes express themselves in the cells, and the evolution of the sick person or his response to treatment, it is hoped that there will be an understanding of many, of the as yet, obscure points. One of them: why do some patients respond to conventional treatments and others do not? “We are hoping to find out about the molecular mechanisms which permit differences between these two groups, before beginning the treatment.” affirmed Dr. Zago. Today the analysis of DNA is done for few types of cancer. One case is that of chronic myeloid leukemia, whose gravity can be evaluated by way of the presence or absence of a mutation, the so called chromosome Ph1 or Philadelphia, which results from the fusion of a piece of Chromosome 9 with that of 22. Without this mutation, stated the researcher, this type of leukemia presents a faster evolution and a greater resistance to treatment than whenever it is present. “Cancer is not really an illness, ” commented Dr. Zago, “but a model of an illness in which the genetic material of the cell is altered in some way and it gains autonomy of growth, without further responding to the controls of the organism.” For this reason, one type of cancer is different from another from the molecular point of view, though it manifests itself in a similar fashion when examined from the point of view of the tissues which they affect.

The Clinical Genome Project should begin with close to 20 groups of researchers and an allocation of US$ 1 million to be applied over the next two years in the collection of material and in the mounting and maintenance of banks of data. According to Dr. Zago, there will also be space for collaborators – especially pathologists and epidemiologists – to whom will fall the task of the supervision of the medical diagnoses, statistical analyses and of the methods of accompanying the patients.

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