Cancer breakthrough as scientists could create therapy for deadliest disease

Personalized treatments for the deadliest cancers could be on the horizon after scientists uncover what causes them to grow and spread.

They are fueled by a phenomenon called “chromosomal instability”, which makes them particularly aggressive.

Today, an analysis of 7,880 tumors – representing 33 forms of the disease – identified 17 different types of process.

The ‘signatures’ predicted how they would react to drugs – and also established potential future drugs.

Lead author Dr Florian Markowetz, of Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, said: “The more complex the genetic changes that underlie cancer, the more difficult they are to interpret and the more difficult it is to treat the tumour.

“This is tragically evident in the very low survival rates for cancers resulting from chromosomal instability.

“Our discovery offers hope that we can turn things around, providing much more sophisticated and precise treatments.”

Survival rates in these cancers are often less than ten percent. This breakthrough could revolutionize therapy.

DNA is packaged into sets of chromosomes containing thousands of genetic instructions.

The study found that tumors with more “chromosomal chaos” – the ability to modify thousands of genetic instructions – were the most aggressive.

They develop resistance to chemotherapy drugs, can hide from the immune system and travel to other tissues in the body.

By understanding chromosomal instability, the international team can find ways to stop it.

Dr. Markowetz said, “With Tailor Bio, we are working hard to bring our technology to patients and develop it to a level where it can transform patients’ lives.”

The spin-off company aims to build a new pan-cancer precision medicine platform – leading to better drugs for a wide range of cancers.

Patients will be grouped more precisely according to their type of cancer, ensuring the best and most targeted treatment.

Using data from The Cancer Genome Atlas, the researchers looked for variations in the number of DNA repeats of given sequences or regions.

The results provide the first “framework” for interpreting larger and more complex patterns of genetic changes seen in chromosomal instability.

Our genetic code is stored on 23 pairs of chromosomes, the “chapters” that make up the genome.

When copied, they can become unstable. DNA segments are duplicated, deleted or rearranged.

Chromosomal instability is a common feature of cancer – occurring in approximately 80% of cases.

The jumble of fragments is difficult to read in a given tumor. Instead, tumors are broadly classified as having high or low chromosomal instability.

The study published in the journal Nature helps untangle them – opening the door to improved outcomes for millions of patients worldwide.

Dr Markowetz said: “The signature collection presented here is an important resource to guide future studies towards a deeper understanding of the origins and
diversity of chromosomal instability and how to therapeutically target different types.”