Boston-Area Scientists Create Online Catalogs for Cancer Research

Two teams of Boston-area researchers have developed massive online catalogs to help predict whether certain types of cancer cells are vulnerable to specific drugs, according to two studies published in the journal Nature, the Boston Globe's "White Coat Notes" reports.

In the past, efforts to identify medications that could target specific cancers typically used only a few tumor types, or "cell lines." The new catalogs, which are available online at no cost, allow researchers to more accurately represent the genetic diversity of different cancer types.

For one study, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in England analyzed more than 600 varieties of cancer cells to determine their responses to 130 different therapies.

For the second study, researchers from the Broad Institute, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research created detailed genetic portraits of about 1,000 varieties of cancer cells and analyzed how about half of those cells responded to 24 different drugs.

Both studies uncovered new insights about how certain treatments interact with cancer cells. The studies also identified ways to predict which patients are likely to be unresponsive to certain medications, which could help physicians design treatments. The data from the studies already are already being used to design early-stage clinical trials.

Cyril Benes, director of the center for molecular therapeutics at MGH Cancer Center, said "It's important to know what mutations are leading to or linked to response to what drugs. And it can also be a way of discovering ... a new application of a given drug" (Johnson, "White Coat Notes," Boston Globe, 3/29).

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