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USC to Generate Data for Cancer Genome

By Lisa Ridgeway

September 30, 2009

Photo of Peter W. Laird

Peter W. Laird, director of the USC Epigenome Center

The USC Epigenome Center has been awarded a $10.4 million National Cancer Institute grant that is expected to pave the way for more effective treatment and diagnosis for cancer patients.

The support for the USC Epigenome Center, which is affiliated with the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Keck School of Medicine of USC, will fund a collaborative effort with Johns Hopkins University to collect epigenomic data from all major types of cancer over the next five years.

The grant is part of a $5 billion infusion of new funds for cancer research and job creation announced on Sept. 30 by President Barack Obama at the National Institutes of Health. The funds for the National Institutes of Health will come from the $787 billion economic stimulus package.

The epigenomic data collected will contribute to The Cancer Genome Atlas, a long-term genome characterization and sequencing project funded by the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute. The project is designed to provide a comprehensive "map" of molecular changes in cancer.

"The data we produce and analyze will lead to new targets for drug development and a better understanding of why some patients respond better to certain drug treatments than others," said Peter W. Laird, director of the USC Epigenome Center and principal investigator along with Stephen Baylin of Johns Hopkins.

The Cancer Genome Atlas will produce and analyze data on several types of molecular changes, including mutations, chromosomal copy number alterations and gene expression. The USC Epigenome Center will be responsible for all epigenetic data production.

"The Cancer Genome Atlas will look at as many as 500 different samples of tumors and tissues from each cancer type to map the diversity of molecular changes within and between the different types of cancer," said Peter Jones, director of the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and co-investigator on the grant. "It's a huge operation and a wonderful boost to our cancer research program."

Epigenomics is the study of how parts of the genome are packaged and marked to indicate whether genes are available for use in a particular type of cell or tissue.

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