BETHESDA, Md--The National Cancer Institute has begun funding the Cancer Genetics Network to support collaborative investigations into the genetic basis of cancer susceptibility. The Institute will spend $6 million for the first year of operation, much of which will go to planning and establishing the complex infrastructure needed to support the project.
The network, which NCI calls a "unique national resource," will enable participating research groups to carry out multicenter studies intended to decipher the role of genes in cancer and integrate the findings into the clinical setting. The network will also aid researchers addressing the psychosocial, ethical, legal, and public health issues associated with an inherited predisposition to cancer.
"The aim is to create a multicenter and interdisciplinary collaborative structure that will enable the participating institutions to draw upon each other and to have access to research resources, information, and expertise beyond the scope of any single institution," said Barbara Rimer, DrPH, director of NCIs Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences. Her division will manage the operations of the new network.
NCI predicts the Cancer Genetics Network will enhance the quest to answer questions of pressing relevance to scientists and clinicians. Among them:
What is the prevalence of germ-line mutations of familial cancer-susceptibility genes in different populations?
What environmental exposures interact with genes to cause cancer?
How can genetic discoveries be translated into cancer prevention strategies and more effective treatments for those with an inherited susceptibility to cancer?
What ethical and psychosocial issues affect healthy individuals who carry genes that predispose them to malignancies, and their families?
Hopkins Picked for Mid-Atlantic
Participating institutions are being chosen from among those who submitted proposals to NCI in 1997 for peer review. One of those selected is The Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, in collaboration with the Hopkins Oncology Center, which has received a 5-year, $3.8 million grant to establish a Mid-Atlantic cancer genetics network. Other selections to date include the University of California at Irvine, Duke Univesity, Georgetown University Lombardi Cancer Center, and the University of Utah.
Once NCI awards cooperative agreements to the selected institutions and the infrastructure is set up, the collaborating centers will invite people with a high risk of developing cancer--based on a family or personal history--and an interest in taking part in cancer genetics studies to join a roster of potential study participants. Neither genetic testing nor biospe-cimen collection will be required for enrollment. However, they are likely to be needed from patients who agree to participate in studies.
A Readily Available Pool
The network will offer researchers the advantage of having a readily available pool of interested individuals, which will quicken the pace at which studies can be initiated. This should speed the research, and the ability to pool volunteers from the networks various institutions will enable researchers to recruit sufficient numbers of study participants to provide definitive answers to questions.
"The Cancer Genetics Network will develop scientific resources and provide access to study populations not currently available to most individual cancer genetics programs," said NCI director Richard D. Klausner, MD. "The new research infrastructure will position us to capitalize on the remarkable advances taking place in understanding hereditary susceptibility to cancer."
A key to the networks smooth functioning lies with NCIs Informatics and Information Technology Group. The group will develop and maintain the central data management system, provide education and data management support to network members, and develop information systems that facilitate the exchange of information and resources.