Yesterday the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCRF) made a major announcement, it has sequenced the of whole cancer genomes of seven different men with aggressive prostate cancer. This is a historic development in the fight against prostate cancer, however, it is a small step for those of us on the ground.

The eventual goal of projects like this is to spare some men from unnecessary treatments and side effects while eliminating an estimated $1.5 billion that is spent each year on over treatment. Additionally, in some future date it is hoped that this process will lead to the ability to target specific treatments to specific genome types of prostate cancer.

The complete research findings will be published in the February 10 issue of Nature.

For the first time, researchers have developed a comprehensive genetic map of seven patients’ prostate tumors. Each of the seven maps offers a macroscopic view of the complete genetic sequence and mutations that might underlie and cause each individual patient’s disease.

One of the big surprises this research showed is that the whole genome view shows that prostate cancer is significantly more complex then many other cancers. The genomic maps show that prostate cancer is not be a disease with a large number of point mutations (specific individual mutations), but it is a cancer with a large number of DNA fusions, or rearranged segments of DNA on a very large scale.

Knowledge of DNA fusions from the research into the leukemia genome sequencing has led to breakthrough medicines for chemotherapy-resistant leukemia. PCF believes that prostate cancer genome sequencing could provide, in time, similar benefits that would lead to a cancer-specific tests or fusion-specific medicines for distinct types of prostate cancer.

The ability to sequence the DNA from the prostate cancer tumor is by itself a remarkable accomplishment as the code of each of the multiple tumors sequenced contains 3 billion points. The researchers developed a diagram which serves as a short-hand tool which allows the visualization of the massive numbers of DNA sequences. The diagram is in a circular layout that looks like a clock face. The diagram visually shows in a simple manner gene fusions (both correct and incorrect) as well as the loss of coding.

The clock faces allows a researcher to quickly understand the genetic errors of an individual’s prostate cancer. It has been likened to a portrait or CT scan of the cancer. At this time,these genetic maps cannot distinguish between high risk (aggressive)and low risk (indolent) disease. It is hoped that after additional sequencing of all types of prostate cancers ( 1,000s of different sequencing will be required) we will be able to predict what cancers are required to be treated and which are indolent and don’t need treatment.

This data from this study will be compared and contrasted with other cancer genomes (i.e. breast cancer genomes) where we might find clues for understanding how to design better drugs for both kinds of cancers. It is also hoped that the insights from the sequencing projects will provide insights into the fundamental processes of why cancer is caused, how and why it does or does not spread, and why it does or does not go into remission with certain existing treatments.

You can go to: Whole Genome Sequencing for Prostate Cancer and read some additional information about the project and listen to a teleconference about the study.

Joel T Nowak, M.A., M.S.W.