The Functional Genomics Initiative

The Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis Center for Molecular Oncology (CMO) at Memorial Sloan Kettering was created to transform cancer care through genomic analysis of patient-derived tumors. The CMO generates genetic information from 10,000 tumors each year and correlates that information with clinical data regarding the nature of the tumors and their responsiveness to therapeutic intervention. The CMO thereby is amassing an unprecedented resource of biological information on an annual basis.

On the clinical side, much of this information is improving the development of new tumor biomarkers and the classification of tumors and is helping to match people with cancer to the best therapeutic options. All of these areas constitute a major leap in the precision of cancer treatment. Additionally, on the scientific side, the output of the CMO is illuminating previously unrecognized cancer-causing genetic alterations and genetic interactions. Therefore, the potential value of the data gathered extends far beyond the clinical applications.

In response to this unprecedented opportunity, MSK has established the Functional Genomics Initiative (FGI). The mission of the FGI is to leverage the CMO’s output of tumor data to better understand basic biological mechanisms. Our governing principle is that the natural history of every tumor comprises a series of genetic changes that subvert normal cellular processes. In essence, each tumor represents an experiment carried out by nature to reveal what must happen for a normal cell to acquire the traits of a cancer cell. 

Mission and Scope

Analyzing the genes and functional pathways that these mutations alter provides novel insights into the biology of normal cells as well as the biological properties of tumors during their formation, metastatic dissemination, response to therapy, and relapse. History provides abundant precedent that advances in biomedical science are founded on this type of basic mechanistic understanding. The FGI will engage the community of experimental scientists and clinicians at MSK in order to mine the data generated by the CMO and advance cancer science.

The diversity and volume of tumor samples analyzed each year by the CMO are unparalleled by any other cancer genomics effort. Also unparalleled are the quality and breadth of the experimental research community at MSK. The FGI therefore represents a powerful and unique engine for scientific discoveries at the interface between mechanistic biology and clinical research, which can illuminate the basic biology of cancer.


John Petrini, Director

Tarsha Barton, Coordinator