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Uncovering order in cancer's chromosomal chaos

Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute and the UCL Cancer Institute have identified how different cancers go through some of the same genetic mutations at the same point in their evolution.

Their findings could bring us a step closer to an “evolutionary rule book” to help predict and block cancer’s next move.

The genetic make-up of a tumour changes over time. This is the result of mistakes made when cancerous cells replicate their DNA to create a copy needed for the cell to divide. Researchers have previously shown that patients whose tumours have more diverse genetic mutations are less likely to survive, and now they’re working to understand why these mutations occur and if there’s a pattern.

The team found that changes in the chromosomes of cancer cells happen frequently and throughout the development of a tumour, and changes that help it survive and grow are more likely to take hold.

They developed a technique that analyses multiple samples from a single tumour to identify chromosomal changes in 1421 samples taken from 394 patients and across 22 types of tumours.

When looking at the nature and timing of these chromosomal changes, they found that often similar chromosomal changes had taken place in different subclones within a tumour from the same patient. These subclones are different populations or groups of cells within the same tumour. This evidence of subclones evolving in parallel was observed in samples taken from 37% of patients (146 patients).


Picture Credit | Science Picture Library

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