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Cancer genomics research should be more widespread: Varmus

Stressing on the need for gathering genomic data for patients of diverse ethnic and geographical backgrounds, Varmus said at present there is enough data for Caucasian white patients but data from other regions like India, Africa is critically required without delay. The medical scientist made the observations while delivering a lecture on ‘The transformation of cancer research’ at the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics here on Sunday.

Genomics is the branch of molecular biology concerned with the structure, function, evolution and mapping of genomes. There is a need for a deep rational understanding of how cancer arises and genomics provides a deeper understanding of cancer, he said. He gave some examples of how genomic insights have provided more precise treatment of various types of cancers, such as leukaemia and lung cancer. Prof Varmus has been engaged in cancer research for about 50 years.

Varmus and J Michael Bishop were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1989 for the discovery of ‘the cellular origin of retroviral oncogenes’. The Nobel laureate expressed his happiness that India, through the National Institute of Biomedical Genomics(NIBMG), was participating in the International Cancer Genome Consortium, and has already generated the landscape of genomic alterations that drives oral cancer. “Cancer is a highly heterogeneous disease and treatment needs to be more precise,” he added. He asked the NIBMG to play a leadership role and requested the government to provide sustained funding for cancer genomic research.

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