Welcome to the future, where cancer patients can deploy Dennis Quaid in a nano-sized Google car to take street views of their cancer cell DNA!
Ok no, that’s obviously and forever squarely in the realm of science fiction. In fact Google Maps doesn’t even have anything at all to do with (other than serving as a tidy analogy for) research undertaken by some good folks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. What is science fact, however, is that the Madison team has devised very Google Maps-like methods for more effectively visualizing the genomic components of multiple myeloma (a cancer of a certain type of white blood cells), components of which are unique to each individual with myeloma.
Serving as the Google car function, the team sequenced the DNA of the cancer cells1, providing the “street-level” view of the cancer genome. The team then did the molecular equivalent of pinning individual cancer DNA molecules to a pegboard, marked and tagged the molecules a la “tabs in a book”2, then snapped images of the DNA segments, just like satellites zooming on your topless sunbathing in the backyard!
Putting it all together by layering the DNA sequencing with the molecular imagery — and viewed in contrast with sequencing and imagery of non-cancerous DNA — the team was able to see not just individual “street-level” mutations involved in the development and progression of the cancer, but also the “earth-view” of larger molecular-level structural changes involved.
Bottom line (other than fodder for an obvious sequel to Inner Space): these findings get researchers much closer to more individualized treatment for multiple myeloma, and ideally to solving myeloma’s troublesome tendency to become drug resistant.