Dialog Box


CRUK Grand Challenge – Mutographs

Lead Institution

International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), France & Wellcome Sanger Institute, United Kingdom


United Kingdom, France

Program Description

The Mutographs research project aims to advance our understanding of the causes of cancer through studies of mutational signatures. 

This large-scale international research endeavour was awarded a Cancer Research UK Grand Challenge to address the following main objectives:

  • to elucidate the causes of major global differences in cancer incidence through study of mutational signatures;
  • to identify and characterize the biological processes underlying mutational signatures and use such signatures to monitor mutagenic exposures in humans.

Different patterns of somatic mutation, "mutational signatures", are generated by the different environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors that cause cancer, many of them are still unknown. In the framework of the Mutographs initiative, the International Agency for Research on Cancer is leading the recruitment of 5000 individuals with cancer (colorectal, renal, pancreatic, oesophageal adenocarcinoma or oesophageal squamous cancers) across 5 continents to explore whether different mutational signatures explain marked variation in incidence. 

Through an enhanced understanding of cancer aetiology, Mutographs unprecedented effort is anticipated to outline modifiable risk factors, lead to new approaches to prevent cancer, and provide opportunities to empower early detection, refine high-risk groups and contribute to further therapeutic development.

Program Goals and Expected Outcomes

The Mutographs project aims to uncover some of the many causes of cancer that remain unknown. In particular, we are exploring why some cancers are very frequent in some parts of the world, but rare in others.  This involves searching for tell-tale imprints carved in the genome of 5000 cases of cancer across 5 continents, with different lifestyles and life environments recorded through questionnaires. We expect this study to increase our understanding of what can cause cancer, hence how it can be prevented. This may also help defining who is at risk and may inform cancer early detection and treatment.

What gaps in existing knowledge will be addressed by the study?

While knowledge about the environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors that cause human cancer is increasing, many common cancers exhibit major differences in incidence across the world that we still can’t explain. To address this knowledge gap, the Mutographs study is designed to look across geographical areas of variable cancer incidence, including regions currently under-represented within international genomic initiatives, and link, for the first time at such scale, whole genome profiles together with comprehensive lifestyle/exposure profiles. Through a better understanding of the causes of cancer, this work may lead to new preventive and therapeutic approaches.

Program Team

Paul Brennan (co-PI, WP1 leader) and Mike Stratton (PI)

Lead Investigators



Institution, location

Ludmil Alexandrov


University of California, San Diego  

Allan Balmain


University of California, San Francisco

David Phillips


King’s College London, United Kingdom

Peter Campbell 


Wellcome Sanger Institute  

Mimi McCord

Patient advocate

Heartburn Cancer UK

Maggie Blanks

Patient advocate

Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund

Funding Organisations

The Mutographs team is supported by the Cancer Grand Challenges partnership funded by Cancer Research UK

Cancer Grand Challenges

United Kingdom


Cancer Research UK (CRUK)

United Kingdom


Further Information

Program Website