Friday, March 6, 2009

Personalizing cancer care

Donation advances cancer care: From left, Borger; Ellisen; Iafrate; Aid for Cancer Research members Elisa Silverman, corresponding secretary; Jamie Segill, vice president; Susan Kohen, president; Lynne Segill, board member; and Dias-Santagata

Cancer is most commonly classified by its location – in the lungs, liver, breast or elsewhere. In truth, however, every tumor is unique, and the genetic makeup of a tumor can often be more important than where it is located.

The MGH Translational Research Laboratory was established as a partnership between the MGH Cancer Center and the MGH Pathology Department to ultimately identify genetic idiosyncrasies in the tumor of nearly every cancer patient. Physicians will screen for 110 known abnormalities carried on 13 common cancer genes. By pinpointing these abnormalities, physicians will be able to better personalize a patient’s treatment – to match the tumor with the most appropriate "targeted drug" – which may create better outcomes. Previously, only a sampling of patients had their tumors analyzed in such a comprehensive fashion.

This revolutionary new practice is being made possible by a $125,000 donation from Boston charity, Aid for Cancer Research, which enabled the development and purchase of automated equipment that will accelerate the pace of genotyping tumors. Clinicians will be able to genetically profile up to 100 tumors per week, a marked increase from the current rate of 10 to 20 a week.

"This new and improved classification of cancers is intended to give oncologists more information about a specific patient’s cancer, so they can treat it in a very specific way, thereby increasing the odds of successful treatment," says A. John Iafrate, MD, PhD, executive co-director of the Translational Research Laboratory and director of the MGH Diagnostic Molecular Pathology Laboratory. Leif Ellisen, MD, PhD, an oncologist and researcher at the MGH Cancer Center is executive co-director of the laboratory, and Darrell Borger, PhD, and Dora Dias-Santagata, PhD, serve as co-directors.

The generous gift to the MGH Cancer Center was given in recognition of Aid for Cancer Research’s 60th anniversary. The organization comprises 24 volunteers and a Medical Advisory Boardof local physicians.

For more information about the Translational Research Laboratory, visit

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