Cancer driver deserts

Cancer driver deserts

Project details

Rare cancers are cancers with a frequency of <6 in 100,000 population. Like more common cancers, rare cancers are caused by mutations proto-oncogenes or tumour suppressors. Such mutations are called cancer drivers. 

Over the last 5 years, we have jointly led a major collaborative clinical research program focused on sequencing rare cancer genomes. This has provided clinical reports that have impacted treatment for hundreds of patients by molecularly identifying therapy options or diagnoses. It has also identified multiple cancers that identified cancers with no identifiable drivers. We term such cancers “driver deserts”. A subset of these harbor DNA with extreme amplification (potentially ecDNA), but no known cancers genes. Others are completely bland. 

This project will investigate the causes of “driver-less” cancers. It will investigate expression data where available, methylation, and non-standard mutation types, seeking to identify novel cancer genes and mutations, particularly in non-coding DNA. 

About our research group

The Papenfuss lab undertakes computational biology and bioinformatics research in the Bioinformatics division at WEHI.  

We develop and apply mathematical, statistical and computational approaches to make sense of different types of omics data from cancer and other diseases in order to drive discoveries. A key focus of the lab is using computational approaches to understanding how cancers are initiated and evolve as they progress and adapt to new environmental niches and in response to therapy.  


Email supervisors



Professor Tony Papenfuss

Tony Papenfuss
Laboratory Head; Leader, Computational Biology Theme

Professor Clare Scott

Professor Clare Scott AM
Joint Division Head
Dr Justin Bedo
Bioinformatics division
Dr Matt Wakefield
Bioinformatics division

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