Inferring tumour evolution 1 – The intra-tumour phylogeny problem

Scientific B-sides

“Cancer evolves dynamically as clonal expansions supersede one another driven by shifting selective pressures, mutational processes, and disrupted cancer genes. These processes mark the genome, such that a cancer’s life history is encrypted in the somatic mutations present,”

write Nik-Zainal et al in the abstract of their 2012 Cell paper `The life history of 21 breast cancers‘. The key figure of their paper shows a phylogenetic tree of tumor development in a patient. The paper contains lots of computational work on analyzing and interpreting mutations based on deep-sequencing data, but –a big surprised but— the very last step of putting together the tree was done manually. Half the paper is describing the reasoning that Peter Campbell and his group used to condense all the evidence they had gathered from genomic data into the tree – but there is no algorithm.

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