NIH officials launched an effort this week to map "all the hundreds of molecular glitches that turn normal healthy cells into cancers" to foster understanding of the disease and spur the discovery of treatments, the Washington Post reports. Scientists will report findings on a freely accessible computer database as the atlas is filled, so that researchers, physicians and the public can view the information.
Called the Cancer Genome Atlas, the project will try to identify "the full spectrum of genetic errors that allow cancer cells to divide recklessly, spread and take root throughout the body" and could eventually cost more than $1 billion. During the pilot phase, scientists will study hundreds of tumor samples from two or three types of cancer that have not yet been selected. NIH officials said they will choose types of cancer that have less variability in order to reduce the risk of failure, because each cancer cell contains a complete genome, as well as cancers with more available tumor samples.