Richard Myers on Genetics in Cancer
  Richard Myers     Biography    
Recorded: 29 May 2003

I joke that I’m spread pretty thin. We work on a lot of different things. It’s partly the genomic nature of things. And we collaborate with lots and lots of groups. And so, the two areas where we’ve worked in genetics most recently, I’ve been working on genetic diseases for a long time, earlier mostly been dealing in diseases but now complex traits. So we’ve done, been involved in whole genome scans, one for bipolar disease, now Parkinson’s disease, some for autism, one for heart disease, actually, for cardiovascular disease in general.

And as you probably know those kinds of studies have yielded just very marginal hits in terms of, or least genes that contribute in a modest way because they’re much more complex than we would like them to be. Nevertheless I think that it’s been important work for the world to have done, and there will still be more. And certainly going deep with lots of samples and with large numbers of individuals who have the disease cases and controls, have the disease versus those who don’t, has yielded, in several diseases, has yielded significant gene contributors but they tend to be genes of small effect.

The other place that we got interested in looking at genetics is in cancer. And this is relatively new for me and my lab. And that is to look at copy number variation by genotyping. There are other ways of course to do this. We’ll probably all be sequencing with these next generation methods fairly soon. There’s certainly some of that going on now already. And what’s interesting about that is, is that clearly somatic changes in cancer are rampant, and they’re different in different cancer types. And the fact that they, there are so many of them and at least some of them are of significant effect you can actually find these effects in modest, more modest numbers of samples of individuals that you study.

I still think for the Cancer Genome Atlas Project we’re going to have to look at hundreds, if not thousands of tumors versus non-tumors for each type of cancer. And so we’ve been doing that as part of the NCI – NHGRI Joint Cancer Genome Atlas Study. But we’ve started doing that on our own as well for some other cancers including prostate cancer and kidney cancer and probably will expand this to other ones where we look at copy number variation. So those are genetic differences, but of course somatic genetic differences.

The other thing that I think goes hand in hand with that is to study the tumors versus the non-tumor material from the same individual. To study those for other features like methylation patterns. We know methylation changes dramatically in cancer , DNA meythlation. And looking at microRNAs, RNA expression patterns. And while many have done RNA expression by microarrays in cancer, we’re now doing it with RNA-Seq and getting much richer and finer detail.

Richard Myers, biochemist and geneticist, is currently Director of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama.

Following his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Alabama (B.S., 1977), Dr. Myers earned his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of California at Berkeley (1982) with Robert Tjian. His postdoctoral work was performed at Harvard University with Tom Maniatis. In 1986 he joined the faculty of the University of California at San Francisco, and remained there until 1993 when he moved to Stanford University School of Medicine. He had been Professor and Chair of the Department of Genetics and Director of the Stanford Human Genome Center until July 2008 when he was named to his current position.

Dr. Myers is a member of numerous committees concerned with human genetic diseases and the Human Genome Project including the Genome Resources and Sequencing Prioritization Panel (GRASPP) and is Chair of the Genome Research Review Committee of the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health. He is also a member of the Biology and Biotechnology Program Advisory Committee of the U.S. Department of Energy. Dr. Myers has received numerous awards including the Pritzker Foundation Award (2002), the Darden Lecture Award from the University of Alabama (2002), the Wills Foundation Award (1986-2001) and was a Searle Scholar (1987-1990).

Myers was involved in every human genome meeting at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and has attended CSHL symposia since 1986.