The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) established The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) to generate comprehensive, multi-dimensional maps of the key genomic changes in major types and subtypes of cancer. This catalog serves as a powerful resource for a new generation of research aimed at developing better strategies for diagnosing, treating and preventing each type of cancer. Following the success of a pilot phase initiated in 2006, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) announced in September 2009 that TCGA will produce comprehensive genomic maps of at least 20 types of cancer over the next five years. The pilot project was managed for NCI by the Office of Cancer Genomics. The success of the project resulted in its expansion and required the establishment of a dedicated TCGA Program Office.
The pilot effort developed the policies, production pipeline, collaborative research network, databases and analytical tools necessary for TCGA’s large-scale study of cancer genomics. Already, the pilot’s characterizations of brain tumors and ovarian cancer have shown that this systematic, high-volume approach can generate unprecedented amounts of data of unequalled quality — data that are quickly being integrated into the work of basic and clinical researchers around the globe. Additionally, TCGA is serving as a model for many other international cancer genome mapping projects and considers these efforts in planning its endeavors.
TCGA is uniquely positioned to achieve the ambitious goal set for the next five years based on the pilot’s success in establishing key infrastructure and processes. These achievements include the ability to:
- acquire tumor samples, along with matched samples of normal tissue, from a wide range of clinical sites
- efficiently extract DNA and its sister molecule, RNA, from tissue samples
- rapidly characterize and sequence thousands of DNA and RNA samples
- collaboratively analyze and integrate diverse types of data
- swiftly provide data to the research community through public databases designed to protect patient privacy
This pioneering effort to map and analyze cancer genomes in a large-scale, systematic manner will ultimately change the way cancer is treated. For example, TCGA data will enable both public and private sector researchers to pursue targeted therapies or combinations of therapies aimed at the specific pathways involved in a certain cancer type or subtype. This new level of insight promises to significantly shorten the time and reduce the costs involved in drug development.
To learn more about The Cancer Genome Atlas, visit http://cancergenome.nih.gov/.