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Getting to Know the Complexities of Cancer: A 2018 TCGA Symposium Preview

, by Peggy I. Wang

A tumor microenvironment map: TCGA samples colored by cancer type and clustered by cellular composition.

Credit: Adapted from Aran et al, Gen Biol. Nov 2017 CC BY 4.0

TCGA Legacy: Multi-Omic Studies in Cancer will take place later this week, where TCGA Network Researchers and other cancer genomics experts from around the globe will discuss the latest in understanding and characterizing cancer and how to translate these findings to the clinic.

Advancing molecular and computational technologies are enabling more detailed interrogations of cancer. Scientist are not only charting how cancer initiates, grows, and metastasizes, but also probing more intricate scenarios, such as how specific tumors respond to drugs or behave in a living organism versus a cell culture. Together, these studies are starting to form a more complete picture of cancer—one that that reflects the truly complex and dynamic nature of the disease.

Some snippets from the range of work being presented:

  • Linking genomic alterations to their impact on oncogenesis:

After systematically characterizing the genomic alterations underlying 33 cancers, how do we elevate our understanding of cancer to the next level? On behalf of TCGA’s Oncogenic Process Group, Li Ding (Washington University) will provide an overview of the current understanding of how genomic alterations exert their influence: on how a tumor arises and progresses, gene regulation and cell signaling, and the immune system’s response to the tumor.

  • Dynamic modeling of genomic alterations in cancer:

While we have generated detailed snapshots of untreated, primary disease, we’ve only begun to get a glimpse of the complex dynamics underlying tumorigenesis and disease progression. Cory Abate-Shen and colleagues (Columbia University) have generated an extensive series of genetically engineered mouse models of prostate cancer based on prevalent gain- or loss-of-function of genomic alterations. These models are proving to be informative of the biology and treatment response of their human counterparts.

  • Deconvolving the tumor microenvironment:

Understanding how tumor purity impacts genomic data is not only crucial to understanding how a tumor interacts with the surrounding microenvironment, but also necessary to avoid false interpretation of the data. Dvir Aran (UCSF) will present on xCell, a method for digitally deconvoluting the cell types represented in data, and how it has shed light on the ways cells change in response to a nearby tumor.

  • Uncovering an immune escape mechanism:

While immunotherapy is one of the most exciting and promising areas of study in cancer treatment, only certain patients have benefited. Nicholas McGranahan (UCL Cancer Institute) discusses how tumor cells diminish their own capacity to present antigens, in effect putting on an invisibility cloak to escape the immune system. The findings may inform development of new vaccine- and T cell-based therapeutic approaches.

The meeting will also feature talks from NIH director Dr. Francis Collins (via webcast) and NCI director Dr. Ned Sharpless. In a prelude to the science, past and present leadership of TCGA will discuss the history and impact of the program and future directions for large-scale team science. We look forward to seeing the creative ways researchers are using TCGA to get a deeper understanding of cancer.

TCGA Legacy: Multi-Omic Studies in Cancer

September 27-29, 2018 in Washington, DC, USA

The full lineup of speakers and schedule

Symposium Registration

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