Which prostate cancers can be left alone?

Only 10 per cent of prostate cancers are lethal, but which ones? Australian researchers have tracked the mutations that drive the cancer to spread through the body, and eventually become lethal.

Bioinformaticians can use Circos plots to visualise how cancer genomes differ from healthy ones. Credit: Peter Casamento
Bioinformaticians can use Circos plots to visualise how cancer genomes differ from healthy ones. Credit: Peter Casamento

The research shows they can be detected in the original tumour and even in blood samples. Testing the DNA of prostate cancer cells may help clinicians in the future identify which cancers need to be urgently removed and which ones might simply be monitored.

“Some advanced cancer cells evolve the ability to break away from their original location, travel through the bloodstream and create secondary tumours in another part of the body,” explains Clare Sloggett, Bioinformatician and Research Fellow at the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (VLSCI). “Cells in this state of metastasis are the most deadly.”

A critical part of this discovery was Clare’s analysis of DNA information from biopsies from patients diagnosed with lethal prostate cancer.

The search for those mutations that can cause some cancer cells to become more deadly than others requires the super speed and unique expertise available at computing facilities such as the VLSCI.

“Such detailed analysis of a single biopsy generates about 400GB of raw data. This could easily double, once that analysis has been compiled,” says Clare.

The study was led by The University of Melbourne and the Epworth Prostate Centre, and is part of a global project that includes the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Garvan Institute, Cambridge Research Institute, and the USA’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, among many others.

The study also uncovered information about how cells responded to different treatments, which could lead to the development of more sophisticated clinical approaches.

For more information: Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative, Clare Sloggett, sloc@unimelb.edu.au, www.vlsci.org.au

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