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Nature Reviews Cancer

Can a single web site catalogue all the genetic changes in every type of cancer? This is the ambitious aim of the Atlas of Genetics and Cytogenetics in Oncology and Haematology, although its editor, Jean-Loup Huret (University Hospital, Poitiers, France), admits that the task will never be complete. The peer-reviewed atlas allows users to search through several different headings. The genes section contains concise summaries of oncogenes and tumour suppressors. Each gene has a 'card' listing its salient features, cancers in which the gene is implicated and links to other sources of information. The choice of entries belies a bias towards haematological malignancies, however, and there are some striking oversights (INK4A, ARF and MDM2 are missing, for example).

The 'leukaemias' section shuffles the cards according to chromosomal rearrangement. Here, you'll find notes on clinical features, treatment, other cytogenetic abnormalities that cluster with the rearrangement in question, the genes involved and references. There's a similar section for solid tumours, this time organized according to tumour type. Other sections include a deck of cards on cancer-prone disorders, 'deep insight' articles, which go into more detail than is possible for the standard database entries and links to related resources.

The database provides an enormous amount of information in a user-friendly format, but perhaps it would be more successful if it was less ambitious. For the cytogeneticist, it provides a useful adjunct to the Mitelman Database of Chromosome Aberrations in Cancer. The Atlas also welcomes contributions, so if your favourite gene or translocation is missing, why not let the curators know?

Cath Brooksbank
Nature Reviews Cancer 1, 179 (2001); doi:10.1038/35106056
WEB WATCH Chopping and changing


Science Magazine

Much about cancer remains a mystery, but one thing is clear: Many tumors bear specific genetic signatures, changes that apparently make cell division run amok. A wealth of information on these mutations can be found at the Atlas of Genetics and Cytogenetics in Oncology and Haematology, a peer-reviewed site in France aimed at both researchers and clinicians. For each of 260 or so major genes known to be involved in cancer, visitors will find a "card" — an up-to-date summary — that describes the mutations, the altered protein that gene makes, and the type of tumor in which it's found. Links lead to more information in protein, gene, and MEDLINE databases. Other cards describe types of solid tumors and leukemias, as well as inherited diseases, such as piebaldism, that raise cancer risk.

The site's curators are also compiling several other useful resources: cancer genetics links, review papers, and teaching materials, including a primer on chromosomal abnormalities. In the site's first 4 years, 150 researchers have contributed; all the same, "we need more authors," e-mails editor Jean-Loup Huret of Poitiers University.

Volume 292, Number 5523, Issue of 08 June 2001 ©2005 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science.



Lifelines: Browsing the cancer catalogue

Researchers need maps to the vast territory of cancer genetics. © Atlas of Genetics and Cytogenetics in Oncology and Haematology The field of cancer is vast, that of genetics gigantic. Combine the two and researchers risk data overload. So online resources and databases that collate and sift information on cancer genetics are proving invaluable. Now a site that features broken chromosomes joins the fray1. Hundreds of genes are already implicated in causing cancer, which arises when normally placid cells start to multiply uncontrollably. With the sequencing of the human and mouse genomes, data on cancer-linked genes is set to rocket. "I thought that knowledge was increasing too much," says Jean Huret of University Hospital in Poitiers, France, "and someone needed to write it down."

Researchers need maps to the vast territory of cancer genetics.
© Atlas of Genetics and Cytogenetics in Oncology and Haematology

With contributors across Europe and the United States, Huret is collating the ever-expanding body of information on cancer-implicated genes into the Atlas of Genetics and Cytogenetics in Oncology and Haematology. "It's a huge task," he says. The database, which is divided into 'cards' or reviews of genes and tumour types, is aimed at cancer specialists — doctors and researchers. "It will never be complete," says the man who has a 'Work in Progress' road sign on his site. "It can be daunting," agrees James Metz of the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center and editor-in-chief of Oncolink, one of the largest and oldest cancer-information websites. Containing over 70,000 online documents, Oncolink is used by patients and professionals. Says Metz: "There is a need for more and more information." Rearrangements of chromosomes — coiled up packets of DNA — are frequently associated with cancers, and are included in Huret's and others' databases. One hotspot on the eleventh of our 23 chromosomes has at least 54 reported rearrangements — all associated with the blood cancer leukaemia. And in some cancers, the type of rearrangement can affect their diagnosis and response to treatment.

Chromosome rearrangements are often implicated in cancer.
© Atlas of Genetics and Cytogenetics in Oncology and Haematology

"The goal is to target therapy to these specific changes," explains Ilan Kirsch, who leads part of the US National Cancer Institute's Cancer Genome Anatomy Project (CGAP). This would be preferable to the current approach of blitzing tumours with radio- or chemotherapy.
CGAP ambitiously aims to define fully the genetics that underpin different cancers, and hosts a cancer-information website for researchers. "[Databases] are the name of the game for the next few years," says Kirsch.

1. Huret, J. L. An atlas on chromosomes in hematological maliganancies. Example: 11q23 and MLL partners. Leukemia 15, 987 999 (2001).


Helen Pearson
© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2001 Reg. No. 785998 England


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