News & Information | START In The News

February 13th, 2012
By: Ursula Pari, Anchor

START Center begins groundbreaking genome study


San Antonio’s START Center has already begun collecting fresh tumor tissue from participating oncologists in the hope that the information gathered will provide the DNA answers to cure cancer.

To increase the chance for success, instead of keeping the findings behind closed doors, the information gathered open to any and all researchers on the internet.

Called “San Antonio 1000 Cancer Genome Project," the study will do what no other previous study has.

It will gather fresh DNA from a closely followed group of cancer patients, and make all of the information on their medical history as well as complete DNA sequencing public online.

“Using this process to get the fresh tissue, we can look at the complete map, the complete genomic map and understand what led to that cancer, which led to the abnormalities. That’s monumental,” START Director Dr. Anthony Tolcher said.

START now has a new oncology pathology lab called Oncopath Laboratories, which is already gathering the fresh tumor tissue for the project.

“It’s quite an undertaking to set up the equipment. Not just a lot of time, but a lot of money ... to set up complete genome sequencing," Director Shelly Gunn said. 

However, that sequencing will not happen here in San Antonio. 

So far, about 140 tumor samples have been brought in, prepared for sequencing, then sent to California. 

The slides are being put in DNA sequencers for 24 hours, in the hopes that they will eventually yield some 3 billion genetic answers.

Those answers will be posted online, said Tolcher, who is hopeful someone somewhere will put together all the information. 

“The patients in this project will be followed using state of the art medical record, so we can anonize the date and put that data, plus the genomic information on the web and make it available to groups out on the web," he said.

It’s believed there are 40 or 50 genes which show differences where cancerous cells are more likely.

Tolcher said while the federal government is attempting a similar project, this one will allow coordination and an open door policy, and therefore increase the likelihood of successful results.

He laughingly describes his vision of who will finally crack the code as a college student in Silicon Valley studying algorithms in a garage.  

“It’s an open science concept,” he said, adding it flies in the face of the protective nature of standard cancer research.