Is it possible to predict cancer?


The equation that will help us decode cancer’s secrets

Trevor Graham, Queen Mary University of London

A cancer forms when a cell in the body goes awry, multiplying out of control to form a tumour. A typically-sized cancer tumour is made up of more cells than there are people on the planet, and cells from different areas of a single tumour have different alterations in their genetic code.

This sounds like complete chaos. How can we expect to treat cancer effectively – even with newer “targeted” therapies that hit the products of faulty genes – if every cell is different? In order to find more effective ways to treat the disease, we needed to find some order in the chaos.

Looking for patterns

When we first began to study the patterns of genetic alterations inside human cancers, chaos was exactly what we expected to see. And the first studies seemed to back this idea up.

Surprisingly though, the more we looked, the less chaotic the patterns became. In fact, we realised that there was often such striking regularity in the patterns that they might be able to be explained by a simple mathematical formula.

In our latest work, published in Nature Genetics, we were able to explain how the patterns we found in the chaos of genetic alterations inside a cancer reveal how that cancer grew.

The full article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.

This article is adapted from a post written by Cancer Research UK funded scientist Dr Trevor Graham and Dr Andrea Sottoriva and published on the Cancer Research UK blog.


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