Monday, March 9, 2009

Genetic profiling


The Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center has recently opened a new Translational Research Laboratory that will uncover the genetic codes and gene mutations from almost all of its cancer patients. Previously only a sampling of patients had their tumors analyzed in such a comprehensive fashion.

By embarking on such an ambitious approach, Cancer Center pathologists and oncologists hope to gather specific information about tumor properties that will lead to targeted therapies and better personalized treatments. Mass General will be the first and only cancer center to conduct molecular profiling of positive biopsies and tumors from all patients as part of basic patient care.

Scientists and researchers have already identified over 110 genetic mutations responsible for causing tumor growth, many of which are involved in several different types of cancers. Codirectors of the Transplational Research Laboratory, Leif Ellisen, MD, PhD, and A. John Iafrate, MD, PhD, have equipped the lab with state-of-the-art robotic technology, which will make it possible to quickly genotype tumor specimens within a short period of time.

“This new and improved classification of cancers that we are doing is intended to give our oncologists more information about a individual patient’s cancer, so they can treat it in a very specific way, thereby significantly increasing the odds of success,” says Iafrate.

Several new cancer drugs that are currently available or in development are able to block some of the mutations and pathways that cause tumor cells to proliferate. By targeting tumor gene mutations with these smart drugs, doctors may be able to eradicate malignant cells without using traditional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation, which have significant side effects.

The lab’s new tumor genotyping initiative should also expedite the time it takes to find the right drug for the right patient. According to Ellisen, “If we are able to identify a mutation in, say, a case of lung cancer, and we know that a particular drug has been successful in treating colon cancer patients with the same mutation, then we have good reason to believe that drug will work turning off the cancer-causing mutation in the lung cancer patient as well.”

The lab will start with the genotyping of Mass General’s lung cancer patients and phase in different disease groups over the next few weeks. It is anticipated that the profiling of all possible patient tumors will occur gradually over the coming months.

Learn more about research at the Cancer Center

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