Scientists have analyzed the complete genetic blueprints of more than 18,000 cancer samples, finding new patterns of mutations that could help doctors provide better, more personalized treatment.

Their study, published Thursday in the journal Science, isn’t the first to do such comprehensive “whole genome” analyses of cancer samples. But no one has ever done so many.

Just over 12,200 surgical specimens came from patients recruited from the U.K. National Health Service as part of a project to study whole genomes from people with common cancers and rare diseases. The rest came from existing cancer data sets.

Researchers were able to analyze such a large number because of the same improvements in genetic sequencing technology that recently allowed scientists to finally finish decoding the entire human genome – more capable, accurate machines.

“We can begin to tease out the underpinnings of the erosive forces that generate cancer,” said Andrew Futreal, a genomic medicine expert at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He was not involved in the study.

For the study, researchers looked at 19 different types – breast, colorectal, prostate, brain, and others – and identified 58 new clues to the causes of cancer called “mutational signatures” that contribute to the development of the disease. They also confirmed 51 of more than 70 previously reported mutation patterns, Nik-Zainal said.

Some arise because of problems within a person’s cells; others are sparked by environmental exposures such as ultraviolet radiation, tobacco smoke, or chemicals.

To help doctors use this information, researchers developed a computer algorithm that will allow them to find common mutation patterns and seek out rare ones. Based on a particular way, Nik-Zainal said a doctor might suggest a specific course of action, such as getting immunotherapy.

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Alice is the Chief Editor with relevant experience of three years, Alice has founded Galaxy Reporters. She has a keen interest in the field of science. She is the pillar behind the in-depth coverages of Science news. She has written several papers and high-level documentation.

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