Identifying clinically relevant biomarkers in lymphoma using next-generation sequencing

Lymphomas are a class of cancers that generally derive from blood cells known as B-cells that are present within organs called lymph nodes. Similar to other cancers, lymphoma tumours can be surgically removed. However, patients often relapse after surgery because, inevitably, a small number of cancer cells remain in the body. Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), is one of the most common types of lymphoma. Sophisticated techniques that allow one to view the abundance of genes (expression,) or the genetic code (DNA sequence), of cancer cells can reveal clinically relevant distinctions between cases of DLBCL. This type of grouping is important because, for example, patients with one subgroup of lymphoma known as the ABC variety appear to have an inferior response to current standard therapies compared to those with the more common GCB variety of DLBCL. The signals that define distinct subtypes of cancers are often referred to as biomarkers and their presence or absence can, in some cases, be tested in a clinical setting. Ryan Morin is focusing his research on the identification of new biomarkers in cancer cells from a clinically diverse group of lymphoma patients. Additionally, Mr. Morin’s research will focus on the identification of genes that have been damaged by somatic mutations, and thereby the identification of genes important to the development of DLBCL. By cataloguing the identified cancer driver mutations, it may be possible to use their signatures to define new subgroups of lymphoma with distinct characteristics. Marrying this information to new biomarkers may help determine whether any new biomarker is associated with positive (i.e. cure), or negative (i.e. relapse), clinical outcomes. Finally, the identification of biomarkers and specifically somatic mutations altering protein function may reveal possible vulnerabilities of a cancer cell to specific drugs. For example, a mutation that results in activation of an oncoprotein may allow a clinician to choose an appropriate drug that inhibits that protein. Further, if no drugs are available, these findings may spur the development of new drugs to specifically target the mutated or activated proteins responsible for malignancy.