Scientists across the globe are stepping up the fight against cancer, joining forces to create a first-of-a-kind database of genetic factors, research institutions said Wednesday.
The International Cancer Genome Consortium was formed by research bodies in nine countries and the European Commission for efforts projected to take up to a decade.
"This is the first large international cooperation" on cancer research at the genetic level, said Takuya Okamoto, a research promotion official at Japan's state-backed Riken institution, which is involved in the project.
The consortium will allow research to be conducted internationally without duplication, he said.
"We didn't have a good tool to fight cancer before but now we're seeing the light in revealing its mechanisms at the level of genes," he said.
The project was initiated by Canada's Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and the US National Institutes of Health, he said. Its secretariat will be housed at the Canadian institute in Toronto.
Once thought of as a single disease, cancer is now understood to consist of a large number of different conditions, the consortium noted in a statement.
In almost all forms, however, cancer changes the genetic blueprint, or genomes, of cells, and causes disruptions within normal biological pathways, leading to uncontrolled cell growth, it said.
Each participating institution will take up one type or subtype of cancer and find data on it at its own cost. Each batch of research is estimated to cost 20 million dollars.
Eventually, a genetic catalogue would allow doctors to warn patients of risks by analysing their genes, Okamoto said.
"Because genetic mutations are often specific to a particular type of cancer, having a catalogue of them would make it clear for researchers what they should target and how they should fight," Okamoto said.
Worldwide, more than 7.5 million people died of cancer and more than 12 million new cases were diagnosed in 2007, according to institutions involved in the project.
Unless medical progress is made, those numbers are expected to rise to 17.5 million deaths and 27 million new cases in 2050, they said.
Countries involved in the project are Australia, Britain, Canada, China, France, India, Japan, Singapore and the United States.
The consortium said it would extend an invitation to all nations to participate and will make its data freely available.