The MGH Tumor Clinic – the first clinic of its kind at a general hospital – was established in 1925 and led by George W. Holmes, MD, chief of the X-ray Department, who brought together staff from various disciplines to discuss cancer cases in which radiation had proved effective when the traditional treatment of surgery had failed. For decades, however, the clinic primarily offered patients consultation and follow-up rather than direct care.
Around the same time Holmes was founding the Tumor Clinic, across town the Huntington Memorial Hospital was blossoming as a major force in cancer care. Founded in 1912 by MGH physician J. Collins Warren, MD – grandson of the MGH co-founder – the Huntington had facilities for both clinical treatment and research under one roof. Joseph Aub, MD, an endocrinologist who had directed lead poisoning studies at the MGH, became the director of the Huntington in 1928 and guided his team’s efforts with a new and unusual hypothesis – that cancer was a disruption in growth control. Aub remained at the helm of the Huntington’s efforts when it merged into the MGH in 1941.
“Aub’s view on cancer would prove to be far ahead of his time,” says Daniel Haber, MD, PhD, director of the MGH Cancer Center, the comprehensive, multidisciplinary program that evolved from the early days of both the Tumor Clinic and the Huntington. “Therapies targeted at mutations in growth-associated genes are one of today’s most promising areas of cancer research.”
The MGH Cancer Center, which was established in 1987, is a pioneer of targeted therapy. A 2004 New England Journal of Medicine article by Haber and former MGH oncologist Tom Lynch, MD, helped launch this new era by describing how mutations in a gene involved in growth control determined which lung tumors were sensitive to treatment with the drug Iressa.
At present, there are numerous studies of targeted therapies for many types of tumors, and the newly established MGH Henri and Belinda Termeer Center for Targeted Therapies – led by José Baselga, MD, PhD, chief of Hematology/Oncology, associate director of the Cancer Center and an expert in personalized cancer medicine – is working to make genetic profiling of all tumors routine.
Read more articles from the 10/28/11 Hotline issue.