Mutational drivers of metastatic colorectal cancer

Each human cell contains instructions — in the form of genetic material or the genome — to direct its growth, function and death. The genome is made up of three billion molecules called nucleotide pairs, which are joined in a specific sequence. Sometimes the nucleotide sequence in a cell’s genome can become altered, or mutated, and these mutations can lead to changes in the cell that cause cancer. The spread of cancer cells from the primary tumor is known as metastasis. Relatively little is known about the mutations in the genome that create, control and direct metastasis. Next-generation sequencing allows researchers to rapidly “read” the sequence of the three billion nucleotide pairs in the genome of cancer cells. Using this technology, Dr. Jill Mwenifumbo aims to identify the sequence mutations that are unique to, and perhaps essential for, colorectal cancer metastasis. Ultimately, discovering the genetic mutations that drive metastasis will help identify potential drug targets, which will lead to more effective treatments for this disease. Given that colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Canada, effective treatment has enormous potential to improve personal and population health.