The Power of a Moustache

It’s surprising how landmark deep science can be supported by deeply rooted fun like Movember.

Researchers have sequenced the genomes of prostate tumors from seven men–a landmark event that promises to one day help clinicians learn how to differentiate between those tumors that will be highly aggressive and require immediate treatment and those that are essentially benign and that can be simply observed through proactive surveillance. This project represents a transforming moment in understanding the underlying biology of prostate cancer.

Geneticists have been sequencing a variety of tumors of different types, but the effort on prostate tumors introduces a new level of complexity.  If the data for each genome were presented in the form of a printed telephone book, it would form a book 35 feet high.

All of this is deeply complicated science, indeed. And it’s promising news for millions of prostate cancer patients. But it is important to note that is was made possible by an entirely fun–even frivolous–annual campaign known as Movember. Each year, thousands of men around the world grow moustaches to raise funds that support crucial research that can ”change the face of men’s health.” In the case, whole genome sequencing of prostate cancer was made possible by unrestricted funds raised by Movember in the U.S. and donated to PCF.

What really surprised the researchers, said geneticist Levi Garraway from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, was the wholesale shuffling of large segments of the genomes, with relatively big chunks of DNA broken out from one site and reinserted elsewhere. The team found more than 100 such rearrangements, far more than had been observed in any other form of cancer studied so far. “Not only were they much more common than one might have imagined, but there were certain patterns,” Garraway said. “It’s important for prostate cancer, but it might be telling us something fundamental about how cancer genomes become messed up in the first place.”

Complete information on this historic sequencing of whole prostate cancer genomes can be found at PCF’s website.

Men of America: Grow on!