Whole genome sequencing (WGS) is going to be an incredibly valuable tool in the fight against cancer. The latest advancements have made the process of sequencing a person’s full genome (3.1 billion base pairs of DNA) much more efficient. WGS, which was cost prohibitive only five years ago, can now be done in two weeks for $4,000 per individual.
As one could imagine, this process produces an immense amount of data. Google will tell you that access to an tons of data won’t help unless you know how to use it. This is key to leveraging WGS effectively for future cancer clinical studies.
Research Study of Melanoma Genomics
The Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) is working with the Hidary Foundation on a new research program involving specialists from five renowned institutions. These investigative teams are taking an unprecedented look at the genetics of acral melanoma. Both the Hidary foundation and the MRA have granted $1 million in cancer research funding to the following institutions:
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
- Kaiser Permanente Research Institute
- Vanderbilt University
- University of California San Francisco (UCSF)
- Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen)
Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer and has become increasingly common among Americans. Acral melanoma is a sub-category of the disease. The symptoms of this form of melanoma are mostly isolated around the hands or feet. At this time, acral melanoma has a 10 to 20 percent lower rate of survival compared to non-acral melanoma.
Investigators will try to identify the genetic drivers of this deadly skin cancer–insight that could significantly impact our ability to treat melanoma. Specifically, this newfound knowledge could be used to apply advanced skin cancer therapies to acral patients.
New Insights Through Whole Genome Sequencing
Genomic sequencing has become much more cost-effective in the last few years. Performing WGS on a few dozen subjects would have cost millions only five years ago. Now it costs only a few thousand per person and can be completed in days.
This means research teams can use sequencing data to calculate:
- Tumor-specific changes in chromosome structure
- Gene expression
A Critical Tool for Cancer Research
“We have made significant progress in the fight against melanoma since the MRA was founded in 2007,” said Debra Black, Co-Founder and Chair of the Melanoma Research Alliance. “This partnership with the Hidary Foundation underscores the need for further research into melanoma, and especially melanoma subtypes such as acral melanoma, in order to develop more effective treatment options for all melanoma patients.”
“Despite recent progress in defining the genetic basis of cutaneous melanoma, comprehensive studies are lacking in patients with acral melanoma. These two Team Science Awards bring together the diverse expertise needed to define in all patients the underlying cause of this disease. The insights gained will likely lead to future personalized treatment approaches,” said David B. Solit, MD, Chairman of MRA’s Grant Review Committee.
“Genetic sequencing has decreased significantly in cost and time and can now be used as a critical tool to investigate cancer, and based on our experiences in technology, we believe that whole exome and whole genome sequencing of larger sets of patients may be key to new breakthroughs in the fight against cancer,” said Jack Hidary, Chairman of the Hidary Foundation.
Remember, the real difference will come from the analysis of the data, not just the genome sequencing. These institutions will work to trace the genetic signature of this cancer. However, the application of whole genome sequencing will undoubtedly lead to incredible discoveries that can be applied to other cancers as well.