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Cancer Genomics

Human cancer is one of the most frequent causes of death in western societies and a disease that is, in highly diverse peculiarities, prevalent in all age groups. Among the most frequently occuring types in humans are cancers of the lung, breast, colon and prostate. In the past and present, enormous public efforts have been made to investigate the epidemiology, pathogenesis, and therapeutic options for a large selection of tumour types and other malignant diseases. Because the development of cancer relies on manifold genomic alterations in somatic cells and the characteristics of individual cases are very widespread, there is still a lot of research work to be done until a roughly complete map of the cancer genome and potential therapeutic targets will have been established.

Recent research activities include the investigation of genomic alterations that underlie different cancer types as well as identification of potential therapeutic targets.

Unlike copy number variations (CNVs) present in the human germline, the chromosomal aberrations in cancer are somatically acquired abnormalities of the cancer cells. Among these are point mutations, insertions and deletions as well as heavy structural variations such as gene fusions and interchange of even larger genomic regions between different chromomsomes. Typical targets of these abberations are cancer-associated genes such as oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes which regulate cellular signalling pathways related with cell proliferation or apoptosis, thus contributing to the development of uncontrolled cell growth.

The pharmacogenomic investigation of cancer is driving the vision of personalized therapies for tumors where the choice of the right therapies is based on genetic markers and their correlation to drug activity in earlier in vitro and in vivo experiments. "Targeted" therapies are being implemented as a novel therapeutic paradigm in Cologne and many other major cancer centers. They are still in their infancy, but the therapeutic potential of this approach is hoped and believed to be very high in terms of tolerability of the medication, curability, quality of life, and overall survival of the patients.

Activities

The CCG acts as both a research partner and technology provider in local and national projects concerned with the characterization and mapping of genomic alterations underlying the pathogenesis and therapeutic prospects of several cancer types.

High-throughput genotyping technologies (e.g. Affymetrix SNP 6.0 chips) enable genome-wide studies of the most common genomic alterations and therapeutic targets in cancer. The availability of deep sequencing technologies at the Cologne Center for Genomics opens avenues for future activities in identifying chromosomal aberrations in cancer as well as building up a general map of the major cancer-related genomic variations.

On the Cologne campus, the efforts in the field of cancer genomics are strengthened in a close cooperation of the CCG with the Clinic I for Internal Medicine at the University Hospital of Cologne, the Center of Integrated Oncology Köln-Bonn and the Cancer Genomics group at the Max-Planck Institute of Neurological Research in Cologne.