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Genetic Explorers

Mining a treasure trove of genetic data in search of new cancer insights

May 21, 2014

explorers illustration

Illustration by Diana Duren

The human genome encompasses 3.3 billion base pairs in 25,000 genes, sequenced over 13 years in a $3 billion international effort.

Like the moon landing or cloning Dolly the sheep, the Human Genome Project—the mission to map a human’s complete set of DNA—captured the public’s attention and blew open the genetics field.

In the conclusion of an article analyzing the genetic sequence in the journal Nature in 2001, the researchers recognized the scientific cusp they were standing on: “The Human Genome Project … provides a capstone for efforts in the past century to discover genetic information and a foundation for efforts in the coming century to understand it.”

One of those efforts is The Cancer Genome Atlas, which uses large-scale genome sequencing to identify changes in the DNA of individual cancers. Understanding which mutations occur and how they drive errant cell growth is the groundwork for improving cancer care.

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center members have contributed tumor biospecimens to TCGA, used its data in research projects and are leading the next extension of this work to proteomics. It’s all part of a national effort to better prevent, detect and treat cancer.

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