The subclonal evolution of cancer Dissertation Thesis


Author(s): Reiter, Johannes G
Advisor(s): Chatterjee, Krishnendu
Committee Chair(s): Guet, Calin
Committee Member(s): Nowak, Martin A; Pietrzak, Krystof
Title: The subclonal evolution of cancer
Affiliation IST Austria
Abstract: Cancer results from an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. Sequentially accumulated genetic and epigenetic alterations decrease cell death and increase cell replication. We used mathematical models to quantify the effect of driver gene mutations. The recently developed targeted therapies can lead to dramatic regressions. However, in solid cancers, clinical responses are often short-lived because resistant cancer cells evolve. We estimated that approximately 50 different mutations can confer resistance to a typical targeted therapeutic agent. We find that resistant cells are likely to be present in expanded subclones before the start of the treatment. The dominant strategy to prevent the evolution of resistance is combination therapy. Our analytical results suggest that in most patients, dual therapy, but not monotherapy, can result in long-term disease control. However, long-term control can only occur if there are no possible mutations in the genome that can cause cross-resistance to both drugs. Furthermore, we showed that simultaneous therapy with two drugs is much more likely to result in long-term disease control than sequential therapy with the same drugs. To improve our understanding of the underlying subclonal evolution we reconstruct the evolutionary history of a patient's cancer from next-generation sequencing data of spatially-distinct DNA samples. Using a quantitative measure of genetic relatedness, we found that pancreatic cancers and their metastases demonstrated a higher level of relatedness than that expected for any two cells randomly taken from a normal tissue. This minimal amount of genetic divergence among advanced lesions indicates that genetic heterogeneity, when quantitatively defined, is not a fundamental feature of the natural history of untreated pancreatic cancers. Our newly developed, phylogenomic tool Treeomics finds evidence for seeding patterns of metastases and can directly be used to discover rules governing the evolution of solid malignancies to transform cancer into a more predictable disease.
Publication Title: IST Dissertation
Degree Granting Institution: IST Austria  
Degree: PhD
Degree Date: 2015-04-01
Start Page: 1
Total Pages: 183
Open access: no