London: British scientists have cracked the genetic code of two of the most deadly cancers, a development described as a “transforming moment” in the effort to find a cure for the killer disease.
Cambridge University researchers mapped the DNA mutations that lead to skin and lung cancers. The complete genetic codes of the two human cancers have been mapped for the first time, setting the stage for a medical revolution in which every tumour can be targeted with personalised therapy.
“What you are seeing today is going to transform the way we see cancer. This is a really fundamental moment in the history of cancer research,” said professor Mike Stratton, who carried out the studies.
Cancer kills seven million people worldwide annually. Scientists predict that by 2020, all cancer patients could have their tumours analysed to find the genetic defects that drive them. This information would then be used to select the treatments most likely to work, The Times newspaper reported.
The Cambridge team, working with US academics, calculated that if the cancer takes an average of 50 years to develop, every 15 cigarettes bring a smoker one mutation closer to the disease.
The process could happen much more quickly, however, as no one can currently predict when the key “driver” mutations will occur.
Stratton, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, a world leading research centre in Cambridge, said, “We have never seen cancer unveiled in this form before. It is like doing an archaeological excavation. We have got traces of all these processes from years before the cancer arose.”
Stratton, the lead researcher, said this study of mutations tells us how the cancer developed and will inform us on prevention.
“I can envisage a time, a decade or more hence, when these catalogues will become routine, and influential in selecting treatment for that individual. That’s what we’re expecting—every cancer patient will have one of these charts,” he was quoted as saying by the British daily.
Cancer is a disease of the genes. Smoking, radiation or alcohol consumption inflict DNA damage that causes cells to grow out of control.
All cancers are caused by damage or mutations to the DNA of formerly healthy cells. This damage causes them to grow into abnormal lumps or tumours and spread around the body disrupting its normal processes.