An important contribution to a project uncovering the genes responsible for 50 of the world's most common cancers have been made by Australian scientists.

The project, which is unrivalled in scale, went underway in 2008 and is working to catalogue the genetic profiles of cancer cells collected from 25,000 people - 500 per targeted cancers.

According to Professor Andrew Biankin, researcher at Sydney's Garvan Institute of Medical Research, the work of the International Cancer Genome Consortium (ICGC) should revolutionize the global understanding of each cancer's cause and treatment.

The project should reveal, for the first time, a complete list of gene mutations or patterns of problematic genes linked to melanoma and colon cancer and other many life-threatening diseases in between.

We want to understand there are the important genetic elements that cause cancer because cancer, really, is a genetic disease, said Prof Biankin, who is also a surgeon at Bankstown Hospital.

By understanding those we can develop new treatments ... find out which existing treatments may work (against additional cancers) and where we should target our research for new therapies.

Australian scientists involved in the project are gathering tumour samples from people with pancreatic or ovarian cancer, and then submitting reams of genetic data from these tumours to the ICGC's online databases.

Prof Biankin, also co-leader of the Australian Pancreatic Cancer Genome Initiative, has so far uploaded the required gene sequences from 2 pancreatic cancer sufferers.

He said, Two have gone up and there's another ten in the pipeline to go up in the next couple of weeks.

It's taken some time to get the ball rolling but after a while it should be just turning the handle.

Among the first release of ICGC data on the web, were pancreatic cancer profiles from Australia, and Canada, along with profiles from the UK (breast cancer), China (gastric cancer) and Japan (liver cancer).

The first profiles went live on Thursday, coinciding with the publication of a paper detailing the work in the journal Nature.

Prof Biankin said it would take a least another 4 years, though every sequence posted on the database improved the pool of information freely available for the global research community.

The technology has advanced to a point where we can pretty much do that in less than a week and for a fraction of a cost, said Prof Biankin comparing the project with the human genome project which took about $1.5 billion if not $2 billion to do and 15 years.

The project should also lead to a future in which a person's genes would dictate their treatment, and greatly improve their chance of surviving cancer, said Prof Biankin.

Based on their (genetic) sequence you can decide which is the absolute best treatment for that patient.

At the moment we give the drug that is most likely to work and if that one doesn't work, after three months or so, we give the second line treatment.

And if that doesn't work we try the third line ... but if you had pancreatic cancer you probably would have died by then.