Experts critique JAMA studies on brain cancer linked to altered genes

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — A pair of studies in the July 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) spell out how much closer science has come to unraveling the genetic signature of brain cancer, according to a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Boris Pasche, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UAB Division of Hematology and Oncology, believes these studies represent a new vanguard in the still-changing field of DNA analysis.

Pasche is co-author of an editorial in the same issue of JAMA critiquing the new studies. His co-author is Richard Myers, Ph.D., president and director of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville. Pasche, Myers and others partner in cancer-genomic research. They agree such findings will help usher in better data sharing and an unprecedented level of understanding for investigators looking at the root causes of cancer.

“These two articles on brain tumors are just the beginning, and many more reports on other cancers and other diseases will be coming in the near future,” Pasche and Myers said. “Once the new alphabet of these tumors is known, scientists will have the capability to decipher the language, which will usher in a new era in cancer research.”

In one of the JAMA studies, researchers at the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute at Northwestern University in Chicago examined data on the most lethal brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme or GBM. The data had been collected and studied by The Cancer Genome Atlas and other groups. The researchers first dissected the biological interactions of certain genes, and then identified seven genes that could be linked back to survival among GBM patients.

In the other JAMA study, researchers at Northwestern University took the findings from the earlier study and indentified the molecular signaling underlying the alteration of certain genes important in the survival of GBM patients.

Pasche, who is associate director of translational research at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Myers both said the clinical implications of the studies are profound, and will help in the design of potential new therapies for this hard-to-treat brain cancer.

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