Genome Variations in Cancer
A paper has been published on Nature, co-authored by 200 members of the International Cancer Genome Consortium – ICGC:
http://www.icgc.org/ , outlining the new era of personalised medicine.
The ICGC is cataloguing genetic changes of the 50 most common cancers, that is over 500 variations of the genome for each of them and publishes the result on the Internet.
According to the what researchers say in the paper:
“Given the tremendous potential for relatively low-cost genomic sequencing to reveal clinically useful information, we anticipate that in the not so distant future, partial or full cancer genomes will routinely be sequenced as part of the clinical evaluation of cancer patients”
In fact, the first genome project took 15 years and cost 1.5 billion US$. Now a full genome may be decoded in a few weeks at a cost well below 100,000 US$ and relevant parts of a genome may be sequenced in a few hours at a cost of 1,000$.
The real challenge to research, at ICGC but also in several other areas, from weather forecast to elemental particle physics – the LHC in Geneva, is not to get data but to analyse them and derive useful information.
Researchers now understand that the real way to cure cancers is to look at its genomic variations, there may be many and a colon cancer, as an example, although presenting at the microscope a completely different image of a melanoma of the skin may have the same genomic aberration and therefore may benefit from the same drug protocol.
In this last decade several cures have been found that are effective on some patients but useless in other. What clinicians do is try one and see if it works. If it doesn’t they try another one but this wasted time may be fatal to the patient.
Looking at its genome may on the one had help in selecting the correct treatment and in general it may indicate in a healthy individual potential genome risks and therefore activate a periodical testing protocol to intercept the cancers at its early stages.
For a population like Italy, the storage of the genome information would require some 120 PB (120 million GB), not an impossible challenge given the evolution of storage capacity we have had.
The processing required both at research and clinical level is massive and leverages on the power of pervasive and distributed computation.
Additionally, it is likely that studies on the exploitation of the genome for a better, personalised cure, for cancer will provide more opportunities in curing other deseases and pathologies. We can easly foresee a time, in the second part of this decade, where each of us will have on her clinical documentation its genome, like today it is normal to have the home address and blood type. The clinical documentation will likely reside both in health care centre, accessible to clinicians, and possibly drugstore to customise drugs, as well as in a personal record storage device, such as a cell phone.
As cell phones get more sensors it is not too far fetched thinking that they can act as gateways from body sensors, environment sensors and body actuators: people suffering from certain allergies, inducing asthma as an example, may benefit from a delivery of drugs based on data detected by the cell phone and other sensors communicating with it and acted upon information related to that persone genome.
Remember: what may seem science fiction toady may become a way of life in a few years. We should have learnt the lesson from our recent past. Telecommunications is both an enabler and a business environment form a variety of enterprises creating, through seamless communications the fabric of ecosystems.