We’ve all heard of the human genome. Animal and even bacterial genomes – sure. But what about the genome of cancer? Scientists are hot on its trail, too.

DESPITE MANY ADVANCES in the fight against cancer, it still kills millions of people every year. In 2007 alone, it claimed the lives of around 7.9 million – that’s 13% of total deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organisation.

In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer reported in December 2008 that cancer will beat heart disease to become the world’s number one killer by 2010.

What we call cancer is actually a class of 200 diseases in different tissues, which are all caused by cells that have started to multiply out of control. Most treatments are drastic and invasive, such as chemotherapy and surgery.

“Cancer is extremely complex, but we are beginning to understand how this complexity works, in terms of which genes are important,” says oncologist Victor Velculescu of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, USA.

COSMOS | December 2009/January 2010

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