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Programs Supporting Cancer Genetics

Director, NCI's Office of Cancer Genomics

Daniela S. Gerhard, Ph.D. Image credit: National Institutes of Health.

Daniela S. Gerhard, Ph.D.

Dr. Daniela Gerhard was appointed Director of the Office of Cancer Genomics at the National Cancer Institute in 2005. Among her responsibilities in overseeing many of NCI's cancer genetics programs are her role as the project director of the Cancer Genetic Markers of Susceptibility (CGEMS) project, and serving as a member of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) management staff. She says, "For the first time, we have the tools to truly understand and address the fundamental causes of cancer, and make a profound difference in the lives of cancer patients everywhere."

Dr. Gerhard is a well-known human geneticist and molecular biologist. Her previous work at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis included identifying the key issues in the genetically complex bipolar affective disorder, the physical and genetic mapping of human chromosome 11, the cloning of the gene for multiple endocrine neoplasia, type 1 (located on chromosome 11), evaluation of genetic risk factors in prostate and cervical cancers, and the identification of a candidate region that harbors a gene relevant to cervical cancer development.

The Cancer Genetic Markers of Susceptibility (CGEMS) Initiative: Initiated in 2005, CGEMS is a collaborative team of several research groups performing GWAS on the DNA of patients with prostate or breast cancer and comparing the results to those from patients without cancer. The results from this work are freely available to researchers around the world to facilitate further study of the biological basis of cancer and also as the basis for new methods of diagnosis, intervention, and prevention of cancer.

The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA): TCGA, a joint effort by NCI and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), is a coordinated research initiative to develop a comprehensive catalog, or atlas, of the many genetic changes that occur in cancers, from chromosome re-arrangements, to DNA mutations, to epigenetic changes (the chemical modifications of DNA that can turn genes on or off without altering the DNA sequence). The potential of a cancer genome "atlas" is tremendous, enabling detection of disease early when it is curable, distinguishing which patients will respond to therapy, providing new targets for drug development, and ultimately providing prevention strategies for people at risk for developing cancer. The TCGA Pilot Project is currently focused on three types of cancers: brain (glioblastoma multiforme), lung (squamous carcinoma), and ovarian (serous cystadenocarcinoma), which together account for more than 210,000 cancer cases each year in the United States alone. Data derived from these studies are rapidly made freely available for the use of cancer researchers everywhere.

Childhood Cancer Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments (TARGET) Initiative: The TARGET Initiative, a joint venture of NCI and the Foundation for NIH, is a public-private partnership to identify and validate therapeutic targets so that new, more effective treatments can be developed for children with cancer. Its immediate goal is to make major advances in identifying and validating therapeutic targets beginning with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and neuroblastoma. The TARGET initiative builds upon the experience and expertise NCI has gained in working with the NHGRI to build The Cancer Genome Atlas. TARGET will comprehensively characterize genomic profiles of selected childhood cancers and utilize DNA sequencing to identify those specific genes that are consistently altered in those cancers. Finally, high throughput screening methods that can rapidly identify active compounds, antibodies, or genes that modulate a particular biomolecular pathway will be applied to identify and validate therapeutic targets.

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