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AACR to Recognize The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Founding Members and Current Project Team with 2020 Team Science Awards

PHILADELPHIA — The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) will recognize the founding members and the current project team associated with TCGA with 2020 AACR Team Science Awards. They will be honored during the AACR Virtual Annual Meeting II, to be held June 22–24.

The Cancer Genome Atlas Project began in 2006 as a joint effort between the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Human Genome Research Institute, bringing together researchers from diverse disciplines and multiple institutions to create a detailed catalog of genomic changes associated with specific types of cancer. TCGA has since opened new avenues of research to improve the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of numerous cancers. The TCGA founders and current project team members are being recognized for their extensive collaborations and ongoing efforts to generate one of the largest-ever sets of tumor characterization data.

The AACR Team Science Award was established by the AACR and Eli Lilly and Co. in 2007 to acknowledge and catalyze the growing importance of interdisciplinary teams to the understanding of cancer and/or the translation of research discoveries into clinical cancer applications. The award recognizes an outstanding interdisciplinary team of researchers for their innovative and meritorious science that has advanced or may advance our fundamental knowledge of cancer, or a team that has applied existing knowledge to advancing the detection, diagnosis, prevention, or treatment of cancer.

“This remarkable project has uniquely convened researchers from various scientific areas working in a number of institutions across the United States and Canada, and it continues to effectively serve as the premier model for team science initiatives,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), chief executive officer of the AACR. “Importantly, the collective and publicly available genomic, proteomic, transcriptomic, and epigenomic data generated by the TCGA network have resulted in innumerable scientific publications and cancer research breakthroughs, which cumulatively have significantly increased our understanding of cancer. These new insights have impacted every area of cancer research and have increased our ability to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer.”

Since its inception, TCGA has resulted in the molecular characterization of more than 20,000 primary cancer and matched normal samples spanning 33 cancer types including cutaneous melanoma, endometrial cancer, glioblastoma, hepatocellular carcinoma, mesothelioma, prostate cancer, and thyroid cancer. The data generated by TCGA have highlighted chromosomal rearrangements, copy number alterations, DNA methylation events, and RNA expression changes that possess the ability to drive cancer initiation and progression. This comprehensive genetic knowledge has transformed our understanding of cancer. TCGA has enabled and driven the development of new technologies that have exponentially improved genetic sequencing capabilities and is the foremost initiative responsible for supporting the emergence and implementation of precision cancer medicine.

In addition to these groundbreaking discoveries, TCGA has revolutionized cancer genomics research by establishing new standards and procedures for managing interdisciplinary teams of biological scientists, clinicians, computational scientists, and pathologists. TCGA has also been influential in developing and implementing universal policies that have made genomic data broadly available for public access.

This is the first time the AACR has honored TCGA with an award, and the AACR is proud to recognize the early pioneers who conceptualized and implemented the initial pilot project. The AACR is honoring the seminal contributions of Anna D. Barker, PhD, and Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD, who were directly responsible for the project’s inception and establishment.

“Although we faced numerous challenges in the early planning, development, and management of a project of this scale, the founding team understood that TCGA promised to change the world for cancer research and cancer patients, which inspired us all to go to work and make it happen,” said Barker, chief strategy officer at the Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine, University of Southern California, and former principal deputy director of the NCI. “Today, results from TCGA stand as a critical foundation for cancer research and a source of hope for patients.”  

“It’s rewarding and humbling to be recognized with so many accomplished scientists who helped to conceive, launch, and establish TCGA,” said Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “There was a tremendous amount of work across multiple disciplines to fully sequence cancer genomes, and the significance of discoveries to come out of TCGA cannot be overstated. TCGA continues to be one of the most important tools in the fight against cancer.”

Also recognized with this award are past NCI Directors Andrew C. von Eschenbach, MD, and John E. Niederhuber, MD, whose leadership throughout the years of the TCGA pilot project were vital to the financial stability of the project and its continued success. Eric S. Lander, PhD, and Leland H. Hartwell, PhD, are recognized for their efforts associated with the establishment of the initial TCGA pilot project, specifically their contributions as cochairs of the National Cancer Advisory Board’s Working Group on Biomedical Technology. Because of their visionary oversight, this working group served as a ripe forum for early impactful discussions concerning the original TCGA concept that would ultimately result in the project’s genesis. Collectively, these individuals are recognized for their extraordinary leadership and contributions to the formation of TCGA.

Also being recognized with this prestigious award are 34 other individuals who contributed to the success of TCGA, including those who were, and some of whom continue to be, involved with various facets of the TCGA network including the TCGA Project Management Team, TCGA Advisory Committee, Cancer Genome Characterization Centers, Genome Sequencing Centers, Biospecimen Core Resource Center, and the Data Coordinating Center. Click here for the full listing of recipients of the first 2020 AACR Team Science Award.

The second 2020 AACR Team Science Award is being presented to Jean Claude Zenklusen, PhD, and the 129 additional members of the current TCGA project team for their recent and ongoing efforts to functionalize the data generated by the project. Zenklusen has served as director of TCGA in the NCI Center for Cancer Genomics since August 2013 and continues to lead the evolution of the program and all team members to further build upon the initial success of the TCGA pilot project.

Since 2013, the TCGA program has continued to serve as the catalyst for countless publications involving various cancer types. The program has also led to the formation of the Pan-Cancer Analysis Working Group to analyze genomic data across multiple cancer types and the NCI Genomic Data Commons to facilitate genomic data storage and sharing. More recently, in April 2018, the TCGA project contributed to the publication of the Pan-Cancer Atlas, which provides a detailed and comprehensive overview of tumorigenesis including cell of origin patterns, common oncogenic processes, and disrupted cell signaling pathways in an effort to further guide clinical cancer treatment paradigms. Click here for a full listing of recipients of the second 2020 AACR Team Science Award.

The AACR congratulates all of the researchers whose vision and involvement in TCGA have contributed significantly to advances in cancer research and patient care.