The human genome—more than a list

Among the estimated 30,000 human genes are more than 250 genes that are implicated in oncogenesis. That, according to Michael R. Stratton, Ph.D., the Distinguished Lecturer for 2003 at the Cancer Center grand rounds in May, is extraordinary: close to 1 percent of known genes are risk factors for cancer.

Stratton, head of the Cancer Genome Project at The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in England, is tracing the history of such mutations and looking for patterns of behavior to try to develop methods of analysis. His team has found, for example, that kinases are heavily represented in cancer genes, while phosphatases are not. “There has to be something biologically configured about phosphatases that does not allow them to become cancer genes. It is this sort of analysis—that is not hypothesis-based, that is purely based on statistical constructs from analysis of the genome sequence—that will give us new biological insights.”

That could change the way cancers are classified, or lead to new treatments, Stratton said, before cautioning, “We just don’t know whether it is going to end up that way. But I think it is a reasonable aspiration that through these global descriptions of the cancer genome we will begin to move closer to an understanding of the core processes through which cancer develops.”


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