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May 1, 2013

Detecting Cancerous RNA Signatures with Big Data

Ian Armas Foster

Using big data to push the envelope on the origins of disease, especially as it pertains to breast cancer, is the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center—Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC—James), where a team of researchers evaluated the genomes of 466 patients with invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer.

The resulting analysis found 30 messenger RNAs and seven microRNAs that consistently appeared in cancerous cells. “This is the first prognostic signature in breast cancer or other type of cancer that combines both mRNA and microRNA,” said Dr. Stefano Volinia, associate professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics at the OSUCCC – James, “and we believe this concise RNA signature could prove useful for the clinical management of breast-cancer patients.”

To reach these conclusions, the team studied the messenger RNAs, microRNAs and DNA methylation (the process that converts DNA instructions from things like stem cells to specific tissue cells, for example) data of the patients who were in 44 various clinical and molecular stages of breast cancer. Across all patients, they found a distinct and consistent RNA signature.

They then extrapolated the dataset out to 2.399 patients in eight independent research groups and found the signature expressed more consistently than any other RNA signature.

Early detection and treatment of cancer patients is paramount. As such, a signature that can be detected, especially if detected before tumors really start growing, would be quite useful.

Further, according to principal investigator Dr. Carlo M. Croce, professor of molecular virology, immunology and medical genetics, and director of Human Cancer Genetics at OSUCCC—James, the prognostic genes (genes that foretell things; in this case, cancer) are mostly unstudied and ripe for drug testing.

 “Most of these prognostic genes are newcomers, and therefore they might represent novel drug targets,” says Croce, who is also the John W. Wolfe Chair in Human Cancer Genetics.

The study, which was funded by both the NIH/National Cancer Institute and the Italian Association for Cancer Research, will, according to Croce, hopefully be advanced to further study their functions. “They also are novel genes with unknown function and need further study.”

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