Professor Serena Nik-Zainal developed expertise in cancer whole genome sequence (WGS) analysis and interpretation just as next-generation sequencing approaches were coming to the fore. With only 21 breast cancer WGS samples available in 2012, it became clear that human cancers were highly individual. Each cancer is profoundly marked by an extensive amount of mutagenesis, all previously hidden, prior to the advent of WGS. Etched into the DNA of cancers are graffiti-like mutation patterns, which could be informative of underlying biological abnormalities, unique to each person’s cancer, with potential for application in precision medicine.
In this lecture, Professor Nik-Zainal described how her team have explored the extraordinary DNA graffiti that has been seen in human cancers, using a combination of big data computational approaches and systematic experimental methods. She provided an account of how they have designed algorithms that could be used to interpret cancer genomes for clinical purposes and how they have taken steps towards clinical validation studies for her algorithms. Professor Nik-Zainal touched on her team’s recent endeavour, reporting the largest cohort of WGS cancers worldwide of nearly 20,000 patients recruited via the NHS. She ended by telling the audience a selection of real cancer WGS patient stories.
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The Francis Crick Medal and Lecture is awarded annually in any field in the biological sciences. Preference is given to genetics, molecular biology and neurobiology, the general areas in which Francis Crick worked, and to fundamental theoretical work, which was the hallmark of Crick’s science.
The lectureship was endowed by Sydney Brenner FRS in memory of Francis Crick FRS, the co-discoverer of the structure of the DNA molecule. The first lecture was given in 2003. The medal is of bronze, is awarded annually and is accompanied by a gift of £2,000.
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