A new computational method will help knowing about the progress of the colorectal cancer


A team of researchers elaborated a computational method to track the progress of the colorectal cancer. It is a scientific advance that can bring new perspectives to discover the factors that push this pathology and the selection of efficient therapies. In this new international study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), there is the participation of the experts Víctor Moreno, from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of the University of Barcelona, the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and the Catalan Institute of Oncology (ICO), and Rebeca Sanz-Pamplona (IDIBELL-ICO), among other researchers.

What conditions provoke “tumour growth”?

Colon cancer has a similar frequency in both men and women, whereas rectal cancer is more common among men. Globally, cases of this cancer are around a 1.4M per year and 700.000 deaths. In Spain, there are 32.000 new cases per year and 14.000 deaths, while in Catalonia around 13.000 men and 14.000 women are living with a diagnose of colorectal cancer.

According to Professor Víctor Moreno, from the Department of Clinical Sciences of the UB “like in most tumours, the colorectal is characterized by big chromosomal alterations (deletion, amplification) and specific mutations. These factors regarding the DNA create important alterations in the RNA and the metabolism of the tumour cells”. Professor Giulio Caravagna, from the University of Edinburgh, says that the research “proposes a bioinformatics protocol to detect uncommon regularities in the origins and course of the tumour”. This protocol could be a key progress to understand a disease which is characterized by a “low number of common genome alterations in different patients”, says the expert. Bud Mishra, researcher of the New York University, added that “the model helps us to predict how the tumour genome will change over time”.

Traditionally, it was thought that cancer was begun with a rebel cell, and it spread due to a combination of cell-autonomous genetic interactions: mutations in oncogenes, with the potential ability to cause the cancer, and the failure of the tumour suppressor genes that controlled it. However, the techniques of advanced sequencing have made a more complex profile of the cancer progression. In a more specific way, everything points to the interaction between cells in a tumour population to be more relevant than what it was before, since tumours are more heterogeneous in cells than what it was thought.

PiCnIc: a new tool to track cancer progression

The scientific team got these interactions with a model that allows creating the cell image of the colorectal cancer propagation. That is why they developed a modelling system -Pipeline for Cancer Inference, or PiCnIc- which uses genetic sequencing data to predict the causes.

PiCnIc considers the function of the driver mutations, which boost cancer progression, apart from other factors such as alteration in number of copies (deletions and amplifications) and the tandem influence and alterations on drivers. To test the viability of the models, the scientific team has compared the predictions to the available knowledge on the growth dynamics of colorectal cancer. With their results, they prove that PiCnIc is a useful tool to reflect on the knowledge of biomedical research on the disease progression. “This new methodology is innovative because it involves a probability model which infers the order of the events (mutations and alteration in number of copies)”, says Professor Víctor Moreno.

This research work published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has the support of the National Science Foundation (NSF), Health Institute Carlos III, the European Development Fund, the Spanish Association against Cancer (AECC) and Generalitat de Catalunya.