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Research: News Briefs

Annual Report - 2005-2006

No Ordinary Atlas

M. D. Anderson was selected by the National Cancer Institute and National Human Genome Research Institute as one of the first three sites to provide tumor specimens for a pilot study to determine if a reliable atlas can be made for the genetic changes that eventually lead to cancer.

As part of the Cancer Genome Atlas project, M. D. Anderson investigators will contribute the biological material that will define the genome of glioblastomas and analyze emerging data that may uncover genomic alterations responsible for turning normal brain cells into this most aggressive cancer.

Genes involved in lung and ovarian cancer also will be studied at M. D. Anderson and elsewhere in the initial $100 million pilot phase of the genome project. Eventually, a comprehensive “atlas” describing genomic changes in all cancers will be developed.

A genetic map of cancer cells will advance the development of targeted drugs for treatment, as well as the molecular imaging tools for cancer prevention efforts.

Mystery Solved

More than 150 years after the discovery of Hassall’s corpuscles, the function of these globular bodies of cells in the human thymus gland has now been explained. The answer ends an intense, years-long hunt for the origin of regulatory T cells.

Reporting in the journal Nature, M. D. Anderson researchers found that Hassall’s corpuscles produce chemical signals that instruct dendritic cells in the thymus to produce regulatory T cells, which patrol the body looking for “bad” T cells that can lead to autoimmune disease.

A beneficial role of regulatory T cells is to inactivate damage caused by errant T cells. But in cancer patients, they suppress any natural reaction the immune system might have mounted to fight the cancer.

The discovery, researchers say, may help provide clues as to how tumors use regulatory T cells to work on their behalf. It’s speculated that tumors may be converting normal T cells into regulatory T cells to protect themselves.

Specialized Support

M. D. Anderson was awarded a record 10th National Cancer Institute Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant, which supports collaborative translational research that applies laboratory findings to clinical care.

The three-year, $4.6 million breast cancer SPORE will fund five research projects, all of which advance personalized risk assessment, detection and treatment of breast cancer. It also will fund research addressing genetic differences among minority populations and how disparities may affect prognosis, according to SPORE principal investigator Gabriel Hortobagyi, M.D., chair of the Department of Breast Medical Oncology.

M. D. Anderson continues to hold more SPORE grants than any other institution, including ones in bladder, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, uterine, leukemia, melanoma and head and neck cancers. The institution also shares a lung SPORE with The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. With the breast cancer SPORE and the recent renewals of the ovarian and bladder SPOREs, the 10 grants now total more than $107 million.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center