Scientists make strides on human cancer genome

In collaboration with the Press Association

Scientists say they have developed a powerful tool for studying cancer, using the data from the human cancer genome project.

More than 250 million letters of genetic code covering more than 500 genes were analysed by the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute during the course of the study.

The research also revealed that the number of mutated genes which may contribute to cancer is greater than previously thought.

A significant challenge in the coming years will be to distinguish the so-called cancer 'driver' mutations - those that fuel the development of cancer - from their passive 'passenger' mutations, which seem to accumulate in cancer cells without changing the cells' behaviour.

"This is a lot more cancer genes than we expected to find. The human genome is a vast place and this, our first deep systematic exploration in cancer, has thrown up many surprises," said Professor Mike Stratton, co-leader of the project.

Dr Kat Arney, senior science information officer at Cancer Research UK, said: "By using advanced technology to scan through hundreds or even thousands of genes, scientists are getting a more complete picture of what?s going on in cancer cells. Research like this will open up many new interesting scientific avenues to explore. "The challenge for Cancer Research UK and other organisations is to use this new genetic knowledge to develop better treatments, diagnostic techniques and screening tests to help beat cancer."

The study is published in Nature.