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Genetic Alterations in Cancer Database Available to Scientists

By Robin Mackar
March 2006

Busy scientists or students who want one-stop shopping for the latest peer-reviewed literature on genetic changes in tumors associated with chemical, physical or biological agents can turn to a new database developed by DIR researchers at NIEHS.

A great deal of analysis can be generated from the comprehensive collection of data compiled in the Genetic Alterations in Cancer (GAC) web-based knowledge system. The database collects, recombines and summarizes gene mutation data extracted from studies in the open literature.

"The GAC system provides a great tool for scientists to generate new hypotheses about how inherited genetic and environmental factors can create conditions that lead to cancer," said June Dunnick, a chemist in the Environmental Toxicology Program instrumental in developing the database and an author on the paper.

Both human and rodent study results are included in the GAC knowledge system. They are organized by species, target organ, tumor type and origin, and agent of concern. Data mining features search, combine, and summarize data from all studies that match the query criteria. The results are presented in graphs and data tables displayed in individual chart areas to facilitate comparative analysis.

"What is truly unique about this system is that it looks at environmental agents and the role they may play in diseases like cancer, and it also simultaneously looks at the vast array of genes that can be implicated," Dunnick said. "Other databases offer a wealth of information on mutations in a single gene, but this is one of the first to contain results from studies of multiple genes. It will help us understand the mechanisms of disease."

"Genetic Alterations in Cancer Knowledge System: Analysis of Gene Mutations in Mouse and Human Liver and Lung Tumors," in the online issue of Toxicological Sciences, specifically used the database to look at gene mutations in lung and liver cancers, Dunnick said. Researchers found that the pattern of genetic change observed in certain cancers can serve as the "fingerprint" for the cancer and the type of environmental agent that may be associated with it.

According to Dunnick, new data is being added daily, and future additions to the site will include genetic alterations in pre-neoplastic lesions and alteration such as loss of heterozygosity in chromosomes. The site will eventually be linked to other databases such as the Chemical Effects in Biological Systems (CEBS) developed at NIEHS and other databases developed by the National Cancer Institute. The GAC was developed in collaborations with scientists at Integrated Laboratory Systems, Inc.

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