Scientists create map of cancer’s weaknesses


By Nicola Garrett

1 Aug 2017

Scientists have created a map of the genetic vulnerabilities of cancer cells that they say will better target research and potentially open new avenues for cancer drug development.

The researchers from the Broad Institute and Dana-Farber conducted genetic screens on hundreds of cell lines representing a wide range of tumours.

“Much of what has been and continues to be done to characterise cancer has been based on genetics and sequencing. That’s given us the parts list,” said William Hahn, an institute member in the Broad Cancer Program and an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“Mapping dependencies ascribes function to the parts and shows you how to reverse engineer the processes that underlie cancer.”

The data, published in Cell this week,  is the fruition of research that reaches back almost 15 years.

“Few places have tried to collect this kind of of data at this scale,” Hahn said. “But we felt that it was important to go after this many cell lines because it would give us a more comprehensive view.”

Hahn added that the data argue that the time is ripe to pay more attention to the broader landscape of functional aspects of cancer, in addition to focusing on protein-coding gene mutations and variations.

“I think we’re close to the end of finding genes that are mutated or focally amplified in cancer,” he said. “To me, that’s a huge opportunity, because it means we have many heretofore untapped avenues for understanding cancer.”

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