Dr. Raju Kucherlapati, Ph.D. is the Paul C. Cabot Professor of Genetics and Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School Director Emeritus, Harvard Medical School-Partners HealthCare Center for Personalized Genetic Medicine Principal Investigator, Genome Characterization Center, The Cancer Genome Atlas. His research focuses on gene mapping, gene modification, and cloning disease genes. Dr. Kucherlapati was a key contributor to the Human Genome Project and among the authors of the published results. Dr. Kucherlapati serves as a principal investigator for The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), an effort funded by NCI and the National Human Genome Research Institute. Read more about Dr. Kucherlapati and his work here, http://www.cancer.gov/aboutnci/ncicancerbulletin/archive/2010/020910/page6.
Over an email interview, Dr. Kucherlapati shared his enthusiasm and details of the ongoing The Cancer Genome Atlas Project with CureTalk. Hope you enjoy reading this interview.
Me: What is the cancer genome atlas project?
Dr. Kucherlapati: The Cancer Genome Atlas Project (TCGA) is a research program supported by the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health in the United States. It provides support for several centers around the country. It started as a Pilot program in 2006 and is now a full-fledged program. There are several different types of research centers that are supported by this program. They include Biospecimen Core Resource (BCR), Genome Characterization Centers (GCC), Genome Sequencing Centers (GSC), Proteome characterization Center (PCC), Data Coordination Center (DCC) and Genome Data Analysis Centers (GDAC).
Me: When was the program initiated and what are the goals?
Dr. Kucherlapati: The program was initiated in 2006. The mission of the TCGA is: The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) is a comprehensive and coordinated effort to accelerate the understanding of the molecular basis of cancer through the application of genome analysis technologies, including large-scale genome sequencing. The goal of the program is to obtain extensive genetic/genomic information about the changes that occur in each of more than 20 different cancer types. Each cancer will undergo comprehensive genomic characterization and analysis. The comprehensive data that have been generated by TCGA’s network approach are freely available and widely used by to the cancer community through the TCGA Data Portal.
Me: How far has the program progressed?
Dr. Kucherlapati: TCGA has completed and published detailed analysis of Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) a type of brain cancer, serous ovarian carcinoma, a most frequent type of ovarian cancer, colorectal cancer. Studies of data from lung squamous cell carcinoma and many different types of breast cancer are scheduled to be published in the very near future. The Consortium is actively working on many other types of major cancers.
Me: How long would the program continue?
Dr. Kucherlapati: In its pilot phase, it lasted three years and in its current phase is supported for five years. Currently it would last for another two years.
Me: What are some of the practical problems faced by scientists working in the program?
Dr. Kucherlapati: The most important problem is to find methods to coordinate the efforts of many groups of scientists.
Me: What are the achievements of the project till date?
Dr. Kucherlapati: TCGA has completed analysis of several different cancer types and are conducting studies on many others. The results are providing unprecedented insights into the genetic changes that are critical in the conversion of a normal cell to a tumor cell and how the tumor cells grow and maintain their tumor status. The studies already provided information about the similarities and differences between different cancer types.
One of the major conclusions, so far, is that each cancer type, previously defined by its anatomic location, is heterogeneous and each cancer type can be subdivided into different classes based on the genetic differences they carry. This information, in turn, is pointing to possible therapeutic directions for each of the subtypes of cancer. Such stratification would have significant impact in treating cancer patients.
Dr. Kucherlapati, it was a pleasure to connect with you. Thank you.
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