10,000 tumors, 33 Types of Cancer: The PanCancer Atlas

Chen Wang, Ph.D.

The National Institutes of Health PanCancer Atlas is an in-depth genomic analysis that includes a collection of 27 published papers, and a data set of molecular and clinical information from over 10,000 tumors representing 33 types of cancer. Why? Like any other atlas, it’s so explorers can find their way. In this case the wayfarers are cancer researchers.

One of the co-authors of the atlas publications is Mayo Clinic researcher Chen Wang, Ph.D. His Mayo Clinic led study was published as part of the 27 articles.

Dr. Wang says the research on DNA damage repair may help determine cancer progression and guide therapy for patients with cancer.

“We looked at 9,125 tumors across 33 cancer types. Using data from the Pan-Cancer Atlas we have a better understanding of which cancers have DNA damage repair (DDR) mutations. These frequent gene alterations in many human cancers have functional consequences that may determine cancer progression and guide therapy,” says Dr. Wang.

According to Dr. Wang a cell uses several types of DNA damage repair pathways to fix a range of mutations, and while a cell may compensate for the loss of one type of repair, it may not be able to compensate for the loss of two.

“DDR pathways are of increasing interest to companies pursuing therapeutics based on the premise of synthetic lethality, in which two defects that are not lethal individually become lethal when combined. Understanding which cancers have damage-repair mutations can help us identify which cancers may be sensitive to synthetic lethality-based therapeutics,” says Dr. Wang.

Dr. Wang and researchers highlighted that damage repair gene alterations are prevalent in many human cancer types, and two pathways were most frequently altered: Homology-dependent recombination and direct repair pathways. The high frequency of these gene and pathway alterations in cancer samples identifies opportunities to improve cancer therapy.

The PanCancer Atlas is a multi-institution collaboration initiated and supported by the National Human Genome Research Institute and the National Cancer Institute, both part of the National Institutes of Health.

This work was supported by the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine and Mayo Clinic Ovarian Cancer SPORE.