Scientists at three Hong Kong universities are joining a new human genome project, this time focused on cracking the code on cancer, researchers said yesterday. Two hundred scientists from 12 countries announced their collaboration in an article published in this week's edition of the scientific journal Nature. The International Cancer Genome Consortium will co-ordinate large-scale genome studies in tumours on 50 different types of cancer, mapping more than 25,000 genomes within five to 10 years. The Hong Kong team will focus on brain cancer, and hopes to map the genomes of 100 samples within the first two years, said Professor Hannah Hong Xue, director of the Applied Genomics Centre at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. She will lead the project with HKUST professor Matthew Yuen Ming-fai, acting vice-president for research and development, who also serves on the international consortium's executive committee. The team will initially include six HKUST researchers and four each from the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University. Initial funding for the project has been provided by HKUST, but the university plans to apply for government funding for the estimated HK$20 million project. Most of the brain cancer samples for the project will be collected from local hospitals. Because cancers are caused by a combination of genetics and environmental and lifestyle factors, data would also be collected on each patient's personal history, although researchers have established ethical guidelines to ensure privacy. The research is an opportunity to study the genetic roots of brain tumours, which remain largely a mystery. More importantly, studying the genetics of brain tumours may offer innovative treatments for a cancer that is especially difficult to treat.