UNC Health Care

Clinical Research Forum selects genomic analysis as top 10 research achievement

UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers played leading roles in a cross-cancer genomic study that has been selected as one of the nation’s top 10 research achievements of the year.

In findings published in the journal Cell in August of 2014, researchers with The Cancer Genome Atlas network revealed a new mechanism for classifying cancers. The project was led by UNC Lineberger researchers along with scientists from other TCGA project sites. A National Cancer Institute and National Human Genome Research Institute-backed effort, TCGA aimed to create a comprehensive atlas of the genetic changes in cancer.

The study was selected as one of the year’s 10 most outstanding research papers by the Clinical Research Forum. The awardees were recognized April 16 during the forum’s fourth annual awards ceremony in Washington D.C.

“I applaud the researchers recognized for their groundbreaking clinical research that will advance new treatments to reduce suffering and bring hope to millions of people.”

“I applaud the researchers recognized for their groundbreaking clinical research that will advance new treatments to reduce suffering and bring hope to millions of people,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “And I’m especially proud that NIH funding makes these advances possible.”

The 10 winning papers were chosen based on their degree of innovation from a pool of more than 50 nominations from 30 research and academic health centers nationwide. The forum and its supporters believe these papers represent the best and brightest work in the field, and will lead to advancements in medicine that will change lives and patient outcomes worldwide.

Award-winning paper topics included: advancing immune therapy, advancing gene therapy, targeting pediatric cancer, treating depression in pregnancy, improving stroke care, standardizing pediatric antibiotic use, rethinking sleep apnea therapy, combating HIV and saving sepsis patients.

In the award-winning TCGA pan-cancer study, researchers analyzed more than 3,500 samples from 12 different cancer types.

Part of what made the study unique, said Charles M. Perou, PhD, a UNC Lineberger member, professor of genetics, pathology and laboratory medicine at the UNC School of Medicine and a co-corresponding author of the paper, was that the researchers analyzed multiple genomic characteristics of the tumors. For example, they analyzed both the patterns in the tumors’ DNA, as well as in the RNA, which is the genetic code that carries instruction from DNA for making proteins.

“What set the TCGA project apart from similar genomic projects is that we actually had six different, very diverse and broad-reaching genome analysis technologies that we could use to study tumors’ molecular characteristics,” Perou said.

The study’s analysis found that the samples divided into 11 main groups, with some cancers from the same tissue of origin breaking into different groups, and others cancers from different tissue origin sites converging into a single group.

Katherine Hoadley, PhD, research assistant professor in genetics and a co-first author of the paper, said the findings suggest that tissue of origin may not always be as useful for classifying cancers as the type of cell from where the cancer originated. She also said the findings could have implications for treatment.

“We found about 10 percent of samples probably should not have been classified based on tumor site alone, suggesting that the treatment decisions might have been different for that percentage of patients that did not classify based on tissue type alone,” she said.

The Clinical Research Forum advocates for increased respect for the field, which members hope will translate to sustained financial support from the NIH, academia, foundations and other donors.

“The better our clinical research, the greater our ability to diagnose, treat and prevent illness,” said Herbert Pardes, co-chairman of the Clinical Research Forum Board of Directors.

About the Clinical Research Forum

Formed in 1996, the Clinical Research Forum convenes annually to allow industry leaders to discuss issues facing the field, best practices, and promote understanding and support for clinical research and its impact on health and healthcare. Through its activities, the Forum has increasingly played a national advocacy role in supporting broader interests and needs of clinical research. You can find more information at www.clinicalresearchforum.org.

About UNC Lineberger

One of 41 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers, the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center brings together some of the most exceptional physicians and scientists in the country to investigate and improve the prevention, early detection and treatment of cancer. With research that spans the spectrum from the laboratory to the bedside to the community, UNC Lineberger faculty work to understand the causes of cancer at the genetic and environmental levels, to conduct groundbreaking laboratory research, and to translate findings into pioneering and innovative clinical trials. For more information, please visit www.unclineberger.org.