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Scientists Crack 'Entire Genetic Code' of Cancer 235

Entropy98 writes "Scientists have unlocked the entire genetic code of skin and lung cancer. From the article: 'Not only will the cancer maps pave the way for blood tests to spot tumors far earlier, they will also yield new drug targets, say the Wellcome Trust team. The scientists found the DNA code for a skin cancer called melanoma contained more than 30,000 errors almost entirely caused by too much sun exposure. The lung cancer DNA code had more than 23,000 errors largely triggered by cigarette smoke exposure. From this, the experts estimate a typical smoker acquires one new mutation for every 15 cigarettes they smoke. Although many of these mutations will be harmless, some will trigger cancer.' Yet another step towards curing cancer. Though it will probably take many years to study so many mutations."
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Scientists Crack 'Entire Genetic Code' of Cancer

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  • by Thagg ( 9904 ) <> on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @08:21PM (#30466992) Journal

    What does it mean that melanoma has 30,000 errors in the DNA? Is it that the one melanoma they looked at had 30,000 differences from the other cells in the patient's body? It appears that, far from finding the needle in the haystack, they've found 30,000 haystacks.

  • Patent? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by innocent_white_lamb ( 151825 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @08:23PM (#30467008)

    I wonder if they will patent this so everyone who develops a treatment using techniques discovered here must cough up a royalty?
    Why are patents allowed on naturally occurring phenomena like genes anyway?

  • Comparison (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jkasd ( 1663231 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @08:30PM (#30467084)
    It seems that they should do this with cancer cells from several different patients and compare them to find out which mutations actually trigger the cancer.
  • How real is this? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @08:33PM (#30467098)
    Do these guys promise to come back in 2 years and report on their progress?
  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @08:35PM (#30467116)

    I suspect they looked at tissue from a bunch of melanomas and have generated data showing where they differ from normal samples.

    But 30,000 errors in the DNA doesn't mean those cells were exposed to 30,000 mutating events (the 1 for every 15 cigarettes or whatever). Generally what happens is that a cell gets mutations in a few critical locations and then subsequent issues during cell division do dramatic damage to the genome.

  • by sevennus ( 1702060 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @08:45PM (#30467214)
    Remember, it takes three events for a cell to become cancerous. 1. It must mutate to be able to express appreciable amounts of telomerase. 2. It must mutate in such a way that it circumvents its apoptosis (self-destruction) checkpoints. 3. It must mutate in such a way to allow constitutive, amplified replication. True, there are probably a gazillion different combinations of different mutations that can cause allow all of these things to happen, but I'm pretty sure it can't be caused by ONE mutation. But it's just my first post, so don't take my word for it.
  • Re:Patent? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by joocemann ( 1273720 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @09:11PM (#30467478)

    I wonder if they will patent this so everyone who develops a treatment using techniques discovered here must cough up a royalty?

    Why are patents allowed on naturally occurring phenomena like genes anyway?

    Both are good questions. And to the latter, I would say it is likely because most of our peers, politicians, and people involved in everything we do in life, do not understand these specific things to any degree to which they can make better INFORMED decisions about them. Most people don't understand what is going on in most sciences, but develop opinions on it anyway; in turn, we shape our cultures and politics in a somewhat similar form (yes, the corps will influence politics heavily with their lobbying/influence, no need to reply to me with that obvious fact). Education, or lack of in this case, is what is key here. The more people know, the better decisions they can make. In even a quick look at so many things that have value/importance to our lives, one can easily discern the impact of the layman's assumption on the field as a whole.

  • by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @09:13PM (#30467496)

    So, since it's cigarette smoke that's the problem... Everyone switch to pot?

    I know you're joking, but there's no conclusive evidence that nicotine itself causes cancer. It's particulate matter and other smoke residues that seem to drive lung cancer, and we know that there are just as many carcinogens in pot smoke as tobacco smoke.

    Weirdly, however, large studies seem to indicate that there isn't an increased cancer risk from heavy pot smoking. [] Other research suggests that THC reduced lung cancer growth. [] However, pot smokers are at elevated risk for other lung diseases [] that come purely from breathing hot smoke all the time.

    So, if you're going to switch from tobacco to marijuana, consider going with methods other than smoking. You may not get cancer from smoking, but it's still not good for you, and there are much safer ways to get high. (They are also ways that do not force other people in your presence to participate through second-hand smoke, which will bother others regardless of the long-term health risks or lack thereof.)

  • Re:Better yet (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @09:13PM (#30467500)

    Oh, it bothers you so other people shouldn't do it?

    Fat people bother me. No more mcdonalds for you, fatso.

  • by suitifiable ( 1702072 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @09:36PM (#30467710)

    I can't help but think that cancer is acting as a brake on the population explosion.

    Umm, no.

    Cancer, in general, happens to people well past the age of reproduction. Which means it has little, if any, effect on population growth rates.

    If there are diseases you'd like to keep around to prevent overpopulation, may I suggest lobbying to return Smallpox to the wild instead? Or just become a pro-AIDS activist, since the latter seems to be doing a good job of cutting into African population growth.

    Seriously, some of you people scare me....

  • Re:Patent? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ImOnlySleeping ( 1135393 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @09:37PM (#30467722)
    The ICGC's policies and guidelines are very specific, [] "The objective of ICGC policy regarding intellectual property (IP) policy is to maximize public benefit from data produced by the Consortium. It is the view of the ICGC members that this goal is achieved if the data remain publicly accessible without any restrictions."
  • by ppanon ( 16583 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @09:46PM (#30467792) Homepage Journal

    The test for cancer is to... swallow a bunch of radioactive isotopes and then get zapped by large doses of radiation that cause the swallowed isotopes to show up in a way that an image can be constructed?

    Well, I'm assuming you're talking about CT/CAT scanning and that's one way to find cancer early when it's still small. Not all imaging techniques involve ingesting radioactives, though. MRIs [] use very powerful magnets to interact with hydrogen to detect fine structures in the body. Some cancers are more easily detectable with one imaging approach vs. the other. Another way involves waiting until the cancer has progressed and grown so much that it's easy to notice but very likely to kill you.

    Anyways, it's all about risk trade-offs. Dentists also regularly bombard you with low doses of ionizing X-rays to take a picture of your teeth to detect cavities. Not treating those cavities could lead to needing root canals, pulling the tooth, or even bad gum disease that can affect your immune system and heart health.

    The problem with MRI is that it needs very strong magnetic fields and the rapid drop off of magnetic field strength currently make it impractical for use on a torso, as opposed to a head or a limb. Maybe that will change eventually. However even some radiation from a CATScan is a good trade-off if they suspect some types of cancer and it allows them to detect and treat it early.

  • by n0tWorthy ( 796556 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @09:48PM (#30467812)

    Nope. There's been a large reduction in cancer deaths due to research and treatment advances (I'm a two time cancer survivor, 1 a stage 4 of the neck) so cancer is having a much smaller reduction on population than it used to. Also, since cancer occurs after the reproductive years in the vast majority of cases there is no breeding it out of the system. If cancer killed people before they reproduced then the genetic causes of cancer would be eliminated pretty quickly.

    You can support your family and get support at the American Cancer Society Cancer Support Network ( A lot of people there going through the same things you and your friends are.

  • Re:Patent? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BiggerIsBetter ( 682164 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @09:57PM (#30467906)

    This sort of thing should probably be done by academia or government then. Progress for the greater good doesn't have to be commercially driven.

  • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @10:58PM (#30468384) Homepage

    Cancer isn't some magical disease that turns up. It's literally coding errors (for the most part). If you want a computer analogy, it's like expecting an hard drive as old as you are not to have any bad sectors - it's possible, but it ain't gonna stay like that forever. And if those errors are in the wrong places - the whole thing becomes a mess that destroys itself. Of course, a lot of the time those errors go unnoticed for decades or even forever if they are in an unimportant part of the code. And there's a certain amount of "error checking and correction" going on in various reproductive processes of the cells that lessens the impact.

    Cancer is, basically, the MTBF of a human. If something else doesn't get you, cancer will eventually catch you up by sheer random statistics - enough time exposed to the sun (not even in a sunny country, or deliberate exposure), or a million and one other factors (which is why *everything* is stated in the news as "causing cancer"), and the cell's DNA "bits" will flip and it'll go crazy and stop all its highly-evolved self-limiting processes until it starts to take over your body. With some people it happens within their first year of life, some people live to 100 and never see it... but live long enough and you'll get cancer.

    You can extend life, you can treat cancer, in theory you can "cure" it (i.e. push its statistical error rate outside the lifespan of a human) but it'll always be there. Try and find someone who's lived past 40/50 and hasn't had either several friends/relatives or themselves have it / die from it... we've all been there. I can name five serious (two fatal) off the top of my head just from blood relations and I'm only 30 - and those are just the ones I know about.

    Cancer isn't a brake on population growth - the genetic factors are rarely subject to natural selection as others have pointed out - it's just the natural lifespan of a human. We didn't have it very much a few thousand years ago because we weren't living long enough for it to have a big effect. In the future, it will always be there even if we "trick" our way around it (there are animals that live longer than us and don't see such a high rate of mutation). Just look at the primary methods of treatment for a condition which sinks billions of pounds of research money - surgically cut it out, poison it or nuke it.

    Pulling some stats from the wiki: Cancer causes 13% of all deaths worldwide and 25% of all deaths in the US. More than 30% of cancer is preventable via avoiding risk factors (which suggests that 70% of it is not preventable at all). It's a statistical function, not a disease, and the more exposure you have to things, the more your chances go up (but, some would argue, the more your quality of life would go down). Nothing brings those chances down below their base rate, though. It can be made more survivable, less painful, less affecting, but you can't "stop" it. Change your lifestyle and you have more effect than researching drugs that few can afford, won't be effective and will have terrible side-effects - the story of all medicine ("Since 1971 the United States has invested over $200 billion on cancer research... Despite this substantial investment, the country has only seen a five percent decrease in the cancer death rate in the last 50 years"). Who here wants to give up alcohol and sex and modern living to live longer? I would guess few. Same as everything else on the planet: Live life, enjoy and if you exercise and take care you'll extend your average lifespan. You could still get cancer tomorrow, though.

    Cancer is what you're left with if you've survived everything else. In the brutal, inhumane terms of statistics, it's not very important in terms of sustaining the planet / population or anything else.

  • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @11:37PM (#30468656)

    The will spew all sorts of particulate matter and chemicals into the air and then whine when a cigarette smokers do it.

    Drivers don't generally back their cars up next to your face inside an enclosed room and then gun the engine, do they?

    Nor do smokers have catalytic converters.

  • by pydev ( 1683904 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @11:51PM (#30468772)

    I'm not saying whether or not I agree with that, but that's the way it is.

    No, it is not. Research is expensive, but a lot of that is already paid for by taxes. Furthermore, the resulting medicines are themselves very profitable and expensive, and a lot of that profit is, again, derived from the government.

    Additionally, market forces aren't working: profitable drugs (the ones drug companies have an incentive to develop) are not the drugs that people actually need. Drug companies love to develop drugs that reduce the symptoms of uncurable diseases and need to be taken for life; the drugs we actually need are drugs that cure diseases with a single dose. They also prefer to develop lifestyle drugs and drugs for common but harmless ailments, instead of developing drugs for curing serious disease.

    According to them, without patents, there would be no research and progress in this field whatsoever.

    We'd have to increase public funding for research and clinical trials somewhat, but on balance, we'd pay a lot less and get better drugs.

    The market works for a lot of things, but it doesn't work well for either research or drugs.

  • Re:Better yet (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Wednesday December 16, 2009 @11:59PM (#30468828) Journal
    Pretty much anything that involves inhaling delicious incomplete-combustion products is bound to be a bad plan(it doesn't get the anti-drug crusaders upset, so nobody really cares; but chronic inhalation of the smoke from nasty little heating/cooking fires in the unventilated shacks of the developing world causes enormous morbidity and mortality []). Outside the chem101 and/or very carefully tweaked laboratory world of perfect hydrocarbon combustion into carbon dioxide and water vapor, breathing combustion products is pretty much always a bad plan.

    On the plus side, if you just want to deliver nicotine, we have plenty of ways to do that, in pretty much any quantity and release curve you fancy, with health risks no greater than those imposed by the nicotine directly.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 17, 2009 @02:08AM (#30469774)

    The contamination in this case should be treated like any other contamination (e.g., oil spill, toxic waste, etc.). The contaminator should be liable for the cleanup.

    Monsanto (or the neighbor) should pay for the contaminated crop at market value at which point they can do with it what they will. Otherwise they forfeit their rights to the product.

  • by CuteSteveJobs ( 1343851 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @03:34AM (#30470378)

    Though the story is newsworthy, this has the misleading title of the century. They didn't unlock it. They sequenced it. There's a big, big difference. It's the difference between having a map of South America and doing Sharon Stone on the throne of the Lost City of Gold. []

  • Re:Benign (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CookedGryphon ( 1096241 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @06:59AM (#30471634)

    That reminds me of the awesome Tim Minchin song []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 17, 2009 @11:06AM (#30473470)

    It's hard to guess from your post what country you are in, but here in the U.S., cigarette and alcohol tax revenues do not get earmarked for health-care. Taxes flow into the general fund, and are spent based on the budget.

    Justifications for increased taxes often include things like "to pay for the shortfall of healthcare spending", in the same way that Lottery laws are often justified by "paying for education". But there is NO direct link from taxes collected to projects funded, except when certain government bonds are issued.

    This is Government 101. Pretend that there's a link, so that people side with your increased tax, and pass the bill. Then spend them money any way you want.

    And if you think that the $5000 in tax (uplifted even by 200x) could afford to pay for the cure for cancer that you think you are funding, I suggest you check to see what you are smoking!

  • by LeadSongDog ( 1120683 ) on Thursday December 17, 2009 @03:42PM (#30477696)

    What have I done 20+ times per day for 20 years?


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