The 2016 Annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) opened Sunday, April 17 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The five-day meeting is the largest AACR meeting ever, convening top cancer researchers from around the globe.
The opening plenary session emphasized discovery by highlighting new and emerging breakthroughs in the fields of genomics, epigenetics, gene editing and immunomodulation and how these advances may impact future discoveries and drug development.
Dr. Elaine Mardis of Washington University, St. Louis discussed ways in which next generation DNA sequencing can shape clinical decision making by identifying new therapeutic targets, unraveling ways in which inherited genetic mutations combine with non-inherited tumor-associated mutations to influence tumor behavior and treatment outcomes, and in identifying tumor specific mutations that can be used to develop individualized immunotherapies.
Dr. James Bradner from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute discussed another kind of genetic alteration called epigenetic modification. This refers to a process of gene regulation that results from modifications to the DNA that can either prevent a tumor suppressor gene from being expressed or cause an oncogene to be upregulated. While these modifications are not inherited at birth, they are preserved during cell division, and are believed to play a major role in tumor evolution. Dr. Bradner described how targeting the drivers of some of these epigenetic processes may be more effective than targeting the genes that become upregulated as a result.
Dr. Feng Zhang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology explained how the new technology called CRISPR is rapidly changing how we study cancer cells. This gene-editing process that was discovered in bacteria allows scientists to precisely target specific areas of a gene to either remove or restore a sequence of DNA. Though the technology is a new tool in the arsenal of biomedical research, scientists are already discovering new ways to utilize it in answering perplexing questions in tumor behavior and identifying new therapeutic targets.
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