International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC)

Cancer incidence and deaths are rising worldwide as a result of the growth and aging of the human population. The consequences of cancer for individuals, their families and society are enormous.
All cancers arise due to alterations in DNA. The study of these alterations has generated most of our biological insights into the process of oncogenesis. Cancer genes and the pathways in which they are involved have been used successfully as the targets for the development of new therapeutic agents.

With the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) an ambitious biomedical research project is launched in 2008. The common goal of the ICGC is a very comprehensive molecular analysis of the tumors in 50 different cancer types and/or subtypes which are of clinical and societal importance across the globe. Thus, besides searching targets for new therapies, scientists are also trying to identify biomarkers which facilitate earlier and more precise diagnosis. In addition, researchers expect to find molecular indicators of the effectiveness of particular treatments and expected side effects.

To realize such an ambitious project, a comprehensive focusing of resources, expertises and capacities from all over the world is needed to be able to make such an immense collection of data and material available. Different research groups of 10 different countries have joined the project so far, and more will join.

In Germany, Professor Peter Lichter from the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) in Heidelberg is coordinating the PedBrain Tumor-Project since December 2009. Besides the DKFZ, scientists from four leading research institutes in Heidelberg are taking part in the ambitious project: the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT), Heidelberg University, the University Hospitals and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). In addition, scientists from Düsseldorf University Hospitals and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin have taken on tasks within the network project. The PedBrain Tumor Project is part of the ICGC and aims to analyze the molecular causes of the most important childhood brain tumors: medulloblastoma, which is diagnosed in approximately one hundred young patients each year in Germany, and pylocytic astrocytoma, which is diagnosed in about two hundred children each year. It was supported by the Deutsche Krebshilfe with 8 million euros and since July 1st, 2012 it is further supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with 7 million euros.

Two more German projects are joining in the International Cancer Genome Consortium as was announced by the BMBF on June 22, 2010. Both nationwide Genome Research Networks are working on the important cancer types namely prostate cancer and malignant lymphomas, respectively. The BMBF will provide funds of 15 million euro until 2015. “The foundation for a personalized cancer therapy is laid with this global large-scale project. The worldwide cooperation, the application of latest technologies as well as the rapid use of high quality data will lead to knowledge for the direct benefit of the patients”, said Annette Schavan, German Federal Minister of Education and Research.

The new ICGC project prostate cancer will be coordinated by the German Cancer Research Center (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, DKFZ) and the University Clinics and the Martini-Hospital in Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE). Spokesperson of the network is Holger Sültmann, who is as well coordinator of the NGFN-Plus Integrated Genome Research Network prostate cancer, an essential part of the NGFN. Goal of this ICGC project is to decode the complete genome of prostate tumors from men under 50 years of age as well as from control tissues within the next five years. With this major challenge the scientists want to establish a map of all genetic changes in prostate cancer.

Professor Reiner Siebert (Chistian-Albrechts-Universität, Kiel) is Spokesperson of the ICGC project malignant lymphomas and furthermore leading a project in NGFN-Plus. The new ICGC project consists of the six German reference centers for hematopathology with their tissue collections, of the large nationwide study groups for treatment of Germinal Centre B-Cell Lymphomas in child- (NHL-BFM) and adulthood (GLSG, EuMCL, DSHNHL, NLLLN) and of international renowned scientists in the field genetics of cancer. They aim to identify tumor-specific genetic changes in Germinal Centre B-Cell Lymphomas. The systematic data collection inside this ICGC project is a starting point for independent future analyses of the clinical relevance of recurrent genetic modifications in therapy studies.

Besides the gain of knowledge concerning further cancer types this new investment shall bundle national competences of oncologic research groups in Germany. This should contribute to the preservation of Germany´s international competitive capability.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the German Cancer Aid (Deutsche Krebshilfe e. V.) will provide funds of 15 million euro for Germany’s participation in ICGC over the next five years. Therewith, the BMBF supplements its activities in the Program of Medical Genome Research in the NGFN to provide a stronger international networking of the program.

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