The analysis represents the first report from Australia's
contribution to the International Cancer
Genome Consortium (ICGC), which brings together the world's
leading scientists to identify the genetic drivers behind 50
different cancer types.
Pancreatic cancer has the highest mortality rate of all the major
cancers and is one of the few for which survival has not improved
substantially over the past 40 years. It is the fourth-leading
cause of cancer death.
Professor Sean Grimmond, from the Institute for Molecular
Bioscience (IMB) at The University of Queensland, and Professor
Andrew Biankin, from The Kinghorn Cancer Centre at Sydney's Garvan
Institute of Medical Research / St. Vincent's Hospital, led an
international team of more than 100 researchers that sequenced the
genomes of 100 pancreatic tumours and compared them to normal
tissue to determine the genetic changes that lead to this
"We found over 2,000 mutated genes in total, ranging from the KRAS
gene, which was mutated in about 90 per cent of samples, to
hundreds of gene mutations that were only present in 1 or 2 per
cent of tumours," Professor Grimmond said.
"So while tumours may look very similar under the microscope,
genetic analysis reveals as many variations in each tumour as there
"This demonstrates that so-called 'pancreatic cancer' is not one
disease, but many, and suggests that people who seemingly have the
same cancer might need to be treated quite differently."
Professor Biankin said such individual genetic diagnoses and
treatments represent the future of healthcare.
"In this study, we found a set of genes, the axon guidance
pathway, that is frequently damaged in pancreatic cancer patients
and is associated with a potentially poorer outcome for those
patients. It is a new marker of pancreatic cancer that can be used
to direct prognoses and treatments.
"'Personalised medicine', where the molecular profile of a patient
is matched to the best treatment, is the way the world is moving
for many diseases, not just cancer."
"The challenge now will be in moving from population healthcare
and a 'one drug fits all' model to personalised healthcare. First
we must take the time to develop the necessary genetic knowledge
and implement health systems to translate that knowledge
Professors Biankin and Grimmond acknowledged the vital assistance
of the Australian
Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative, a network of more than 20
hospitals and research institutions Australia-wide, with over 200
members - surgeons, pathologists, nurses and researchers - that all
contributed to the project.
They also collaborated with colleagues from the Baylor College of
Medicine and The Methodist Hospital Research Institute in Texas,
the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Johns Hopkins University
in Maryland, the University of California San Francisco, the
University of Verona, the Cambridge Research Institute and the
Sanger Centre in the UK.
The Cancer Institute NSW is one of fifteen funding organisations
of this study.
View original full release from the Garvan Institute