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Genetic Code For Type of Cancer Is Cracked

Scientists at Johns Hopkins have deciphered the genetic code for a type of pancreatic cancer. 

The findings described in Science Express online shows that patients whose tumors have certain coding “mistakes” live twice as long as those without them. 

Scientists report learning that each patient with this kind of rare cancer has a unique genetic code that predicts how aggressive the disease is and how sensitive it is to specific treatments.  What this tells us is that it may be more useful to classify cancers by gene type rather than only by organ or cell type according to Jesse Slome director of the American Association for Critical Illness Insurance.

Pancreatic neuroendocrine cancers account for about five percent of all pancreatic cancers. Some of these tumors produce hormones that have noticeable effects on the body, including variations in blood sugar levels, weight gain, and skin rashes while others have no such hormone signal.

Researchers investigated non-hormonal pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors in 68 men and women. Patients whose tumors had mutations in three genes and lived at least 10 years after diagnosis, while more than 60 percent of patients whose tumors lacked these mutations died within five years of diagnosis. 

The Johns Hopkins team, which previously mapped six other cancer types, used automated tools to create a genetic “map” that provides clues to how tumors develop, grow and spread. 

In the first set of experiments, the Johns Hopkins scientists sequenced nearly all protein-encoding genes in 10 of the 68 samples of pancreatic neuroendocrine tumors and compared these sequences with normal DNA from each patient to identify tumor-specific changes or mutations. 

Major funding for the study was provided by the Caring for Carcinoid Foundation, a nonprofit foundation which funds research on carcinoid cancer, pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer, and related neuroendocrine cancers. Additional funding was from the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, the Sol Goldman Pancreatic Cancer Research Center, the Joseph Rabinowitz Fund for Pancreatic Cancer Research, the Virginia and D.K. Ludwig Fund for Cancer Research, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Research Foundation, the AACR Stand Up to Cancer’s Dream Team Translational Cancer Research Grant and the National Institutes of Health.

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