Cancer is a common problem worldwide. About a third of the population will suffer from a malignant tumor at some point in life. It is a major cause of mortality, and the PCAWG ( Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes ) study is trying to put an end to it.
There are various reasons why cancer develops in humans. We will explain them later, but it is interesting to think that the complexity of human nature is in a way something that ends up with mutation and cell defects.
Some philosophers and scientists believe that it is in our DNA to form genetic mutations that lead to cancer. They also expect it to happen because our bodies and DNA are so intricately detailed.
In line with this, the scientific community has studied the genetic causes of cancer, which includes the PCAWG studies and the Nature article.
Nature has previously published articles on this topic, along with more than twenty articles published simultaneously. The study group reported that they analyzed more than 2,500 people with almost 40 different tumors.
Researchers from different countries participated in the PCAWG study of the Human Genome Project (HGP). A total of 1,300 professionals worked with 13 supercomputers to process the data.
The reason why cancer exists
We know that cancer is multifactorial. In other words, except in a few cases, we can not pinpoint a single factor that causes malignant tumors. The PCAWG study had this premise and wanted to sequence genes that could develop into tumors.
Researchers tried to find out how DNA changed to culminate in the uncontrolled process of abnormal cell growth and the multiplication that cancer causes.
Genetic mutations can be attributed to almost a hundred different factors. Among these we find:
- Lifestyle : tobacco, alcohol and an unbalanced diet are factors that we can change that are known for their contribution to cancer. Here, smoking is one of the worst things.
- Age : Aging prevents cells from avoiding cancer, causing uncontrolled cell multiplication.
- Heredity : humans can transmit genetic mutations. Parents can give it to their children.
- Bad luck : DNA can mutate from unknown origins. We currently owe this type of mutation to chances, but the scientific truth is that we do not know. It is problematic that almost 60% of tumors have to do with chance.
The human genome project
The PCAWG study is part of The human genome project which began in 1990. It was started by the international scientific community to uncover the mysteries behind human DNA.
The human genome project was to be completed in 2005, but was completed two years earlier. In 2003, they informed the world that they had coded all the genetic information about humans.
Thanks to this sequencing , it was possible to proceed in the PCAWG study.
By knowing all about human DNA, we can now examine which parts are altered by each disease, including cancer.
Different units and countries financed both projects, but this did not prevent a shortage of funds.
Many smaller studies that were derived from the larger ones do not find sufficient funding to continue.
We have even found financial problems in recent publications that we are aware of. The same researchers have stated that they were not rewarded for doing extra work, and that they do not know where the money will come from in the future.
Beyond these problems, however, The human genome project was a step forward for:
- To know everything about our DNA
- Storage and sharing of information among researchers
- To improve techniques for analyzing genetic information in medicine
- To discuss the legality of this knowledge
The benefits of the PCAWG study
The researchers involved know that this progress is important, but it does not change the way cancer is treated in an instant. The benefits of the PCAWG study will be long-term. In any case, it would not be possible to continue without these publications.
Genetic information will allow us to tailor treatments to each person. We will enter an era of individualized oncology therapy, with medications tailored to the patient.
It would also be possible to detect cancer early, perhaps using liquid biopsies / fluid biopsies.
This means that if cells that begin to mutate release altered DNA into the bloodstream, we will have the techniques to find it.
As always, both legal and ethical issues will arise. Can health insurance companies refuse to help someone who is known to be a carrier of a cancer mutation?
All in all, we still need to do more, but we have already taken great strides forward. We may be closer to fighting cancer as equals, and who knows, maybe we can even fight it before it strikes.