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“Gene” Friday Series: Understanding Cancer Genetics

This blog is part 1 of 4 of our "Gene" Fridays series on cancer genetics.

There is no one better suited to explain the intricacies of cancer genetics than Dr. Bert Vogelstein.  He and his team completed the lion’s share of the work that proved that cancer is a genetic disease caused by an accumulation of genetic defects—some inherited at birth and some acquired throughout life.

His more than three decades of research is universally regarded as the most relevant in the field. In the 1980s, without the benefit of today’s automated gene sequencing technology, Dr. Vogelstein, Dr. Kenneth Kinzler, and their team of bright young researchers began uncovering the collection of genetic errors that make cancers originate, grow, and finally spread.

Then in the last six years, they went a step beyond, accomplishing something that would have been impossible just a decade ago. They identified the precise sequence of all the genes in a cancer cell, encompassing more than 30 million base pairs of DNA.  This accomplishment caught the scientific world by storm and has opened new vistas of research.

Since Hopkins investigators completed the first genetic blueprints of cancers in 2006 and 2008, many other research teams have built upon their pioneering discoveries, which are considered the classic model for all of cancer medicine, and applied their methods to other cancers.  “As a result, all of the major tumor types and also some rare cancers have now been analyzed,” says Dr. Vogelstein.  Answers that remained elusive for decades have now been revealed.

We'll explain,  in easy to understand terms, the importance of these cancer genetics discoveries in managing cancer and preventing cancer deaths in this four-part series Understanding Cancer Genetics.

Look for these future blogs on the next four Fridays this month:
No Two Cancers are the Same:  Learn why two patients with seemingly identical cancers have very different responses to treatment.

The Encyclopedia Analogy:  Inside the DNA of each cell is an encyclopedia of information that instructs the cell how to behave. Learn how errors in the encyclopedia cause cancer and what scientists are doingto correct them.

Personalized, Genome-Based Medicine:  Now that scientists have unraveled the genetic mistakes driving cancer, we'll tell you how they're using what they've learned to create better treatments and new tests that have the potential to prevent cancer deaths.

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