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American Reinvestment and Recovery Act

The Cancer Genome Atlas Project (TCGA)

What is The Cancer Genome Atlas Project?

The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Project is a large-scale collaborative effort to characterize the genomic changes that occur in cancer. The project, co-funded by NCI and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), currently involves more than two dozen participating institutions.

TCGA is unique in the benefits and advantages that it provides to cancer research:

  • It has an established infrastructure that integrates genomic sequencing data with genomic characterization data and uses a large network of researchers in a systematic way.
  • By making all data sets and analytical tools publicly available to the research community through the TCGA Data Portal, the project promises to accelerate the pace of translational research, leading to new cancer therapies and diagnostic approaches.

What are the goals of The Cancer Genome Atlas?

The overarching goal of TCGA is to comprehensively define the important genomic changes involved in cancer. This knowledge will advance our molecular understanding of the disease and improve our ability to diagnose, treat, and prevent it. TCGA's goal supports the overall mission of NCI, which is to eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer.

What are the accomplishments related to this program to date?

TCGA's research network reported the first results of its large-scale, comprehensive study of the most common form of human brain cancer, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), in the journal Nature [455:1061-1068, 23 October 2008].

The GBM findings include:

  • The identification of many gene mutations, including three previously unidentified mutations that occur with significant frequency;
  • The delineation of core cellular signaling pathways that are disrupted in this type of brain cancer; and
  • An unexpected observation that points to a potential mechanism for resistance to a common chemotherapy drug used to treat brain cancer.

How will Recovery Act funding impact TCGA?

NCI and NHGRI plan to build on the foundation of success in the pilot phase of TCGA to identify all of the relevant genomic alterations in 20-25 tumor types by 2014. NCI plans to use Recovery Act funding to accelerate progress toward this aggressive goal.

Furthermore, the TCGA model is being applied to a complementary initiative for pediatric cancers-Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments, or TARGET. Currently focused on identifying therapeutic targets for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and Neuroblastoma, TARGET researches have already identified genetic changes that predict a high likelihood of relapse in children with ALL.

Together, these projects have the potential to change the direction of cancer treatment, prevention, and diagnosis.

How much funding did this program receive through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)?

The NCI received $1.3 billion through the Recovery Act, $175 M of which will be devoted to TCGA.

How is TCGA helping to stimulate the economy?

ARRA funds will enable the TCGA research network to sequence and analyze the genomes of 20-25 additional cancer types, which will result in many new jobs and allow the continued support of current staff. ARRA funding will also expedite the completion of a number of pilot-phase projects, and selected sites will be required to hire individuals at all levels of the research and development continuum, ranging from equipment operators to developers of novel methods for data analysis and interpretation.

TCGA project sites are based in the United States, ensuring that new employment opportunities will bolster the U.S. workforce and economy. Overall, TCGA will ultimately contribute to the support of thousands of scientists, physicians, computer scientists, laboratory technicians, and bioinformaticians as data from the expanded project become available.

Finally, because TCGA relies on technological innovation, ARRA funding will also support advances in technology, fueling a new era of scientific discovery. Such an investment will continue to bolster the U.S. economy—and research and development—for years to come, and help in the fight against other diseases besides cancer.