A computer analysis of gene expression in normal and cancer cells. Each line represents one of 22,500 different genes, which have been analyzed for changes occurring in their expression patterns when normal and cancer cells are treated with a demethylating agent. DNA methylation is a process associated with regulating genes. Red represents high levels of gene expression and blue represents low levels. Image courtesy of Wellcome Trust
One Hundred Patients, One Thousand Experts, One Million Hopes: UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center Launches “My Answer to Cancer”
Today, UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center launched a personalized cancer treatment program called “My Answer to Cancer.” A team of oncologists, bioinformaticians, pathologists and geneticists has pledged to sequence and analyze the DNA of a 1000 patients with metastatic disease. When the project concludes, researchers and clinicians hope to have created an enormous and unprecedented database of cancer/DNA data linked to clinical outcomes. That knowledge can then be used to offer novel therapies targeted for specific tumor defects.
Scott Lippman, MD, director of Moores Cancer Center, is unabashedly optimistic that efforts like “My Answer to Cancer” will change the paradigm of cancer treatment:
“‘My Answer to Cancer’ is a necessary first step to getting to personalized medicine. We ultimately want to be able to do molecular sequencing on everybody, but you have to start somewhere. This study helps us work out the many aspects and challenges, such as getting critical information from the lab to the doctor and how the doctor can effectively use it. We need to learn how to do this quickly, without waiting weeks or months between lab results and treatment.
We’re experiencing a sea-change. This is not your father’s cancer treatment. It’s not enough now to just know what’s going on in a cancer cell. We need to know what’s happening in the tumor microenvironment, in other cells and tissues, in how the patient’s immune system is functioning and responding and in respect to other host factors such as inherited changes and commensal bacteria. These things have major impacts upon the behavior of the cancer.
Scientists and doctors at UC San Diego and Moores Cancer Center are identifying molecular defects and targets that we can therapeutically attack in dozens of different ways, with antibodies, for example, or small molecules. The science is moving quickly. Look at all of the drugs that have been developed and approved for cancer in the last few years. Compare this to the situation 20 years ago. Back then, to treat a cancer patient, doctors would look at the few drugs available and consider various doses or combinations for optimal effect.
I think we can find new cures for some cancers and get to a point with others where we can convert cancer from a life-threatening disease to a chronic condition.”