Archive for April, 2013

Cancer Genomes and Personalized Medicine – are we there yet?

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Bioinformatics WideShot(Cropped)

Cancer is and was always a disease that frightened humankind. The diagnosis of the disease meant a death sentence some decades ago. However, things are changing for the better. Armed with the initial human genome sequence available in 2001 and hundreds of cancer genomes, we can now use targeted drugs for specific defects in cancer cells. Treatment for the disease will not be based in the tissue the cancer came from (examples include prostate, colon, breast, brain and others) like years ago, but in the genomic features of the cancer. A tumor from brain can have similar genetic defects and resemble more a tumor from prostate or even breast compared to other brain tumors. Most of these genetic flaws that have been identified with human cancer genome projects are relative newcomers to medical terminology, as are most of the anticancer drugs, still in early testing, that are aimed at them. Development of the new drugs has been affected by the falling cost and increased speed of decoding the DNA from cancer cells and the prospects of premium prices for drugs that specifically attack the molecular drivers of cancer (for more information see the article by Anne Eisenberg in the NY Times “Variations on a Gene, and Tools to Find Them”). The web is also helping in the fight against cancer. Data repositories have been created to guide doctors and patients that suffer from cancer helping them find the right drug for their disease type. One of such tools is the portal “My Cancer Genome” created by researchers at the Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, United States. The website started two years ago and now has more than fifty contributors from twenty institutions all over the world. The website lists mutations in different cancer types, as well as drug therapies that may or may not be of benefit for patients. Most of the drugs described in the website are in clinical trials and only a few have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the portal is free and doctors, researchers, patients, relatives and institutions can access, easing the translation of the findings in research laboratories to the bedside of patients. The users can also select a type of cancer, such as “melanoma” and add a gene or gene defect, let’s say “BRAF,” for instance, or “lung cancer” and “BRAF,” and see all types of mutations in the BRAF gene that occur in those cancer types. The users can then check for national and international drug trials aimed at these alterations. Another internet tool that is focused in cancer patients is the website “CancerDriver”. This solution is a Search Engine connected to a database that facilitates the identification of the right biomarker for different disease outcomes. These solutions can use data crowdsourcing to identify specific disease types, leveraging information to the final consumer – the cancer patient. The sequencing of cancer genomes with accumulating information in databases and the use of internet solutions by health care professionals and patients will definitely facilitate cancer treatment. Personalized Medicine for cancer is already here. Now we have to make good use of it to help treating this deadly disease in the years to come.