Groundbreaking test may help personalize cancer treatment regimen


Cancer treatment in B.C. is about to get more personal — and more comfortable — after the announcement Monday of a groundbreaking medical project.

Genome B.C. and the B.C. Cancer Foundation have started work to develop a genetic test over the next two years that researchers hope will take the guesswork out of cancer treatment.

There are currently two types of treatment for cancer — chemotherapy and stem-cell transportation — said Dr. Aly Karsan, medical director for the Cancer Genetics Lab for the B.C. Cancer Agency.

“In order to provide more effective treatment, we must first understand which course of treatment a patient will respond best to,” said Karsan.

“We can do this with information from the patients’ genetic signature of their cancer and this can be identified through their genomic sequence,” he said.

A developed diagnostic test would help predict whether chemo or stem-cell treatment is the best choice for a patient, therefore helping alleviate a patient from excessive treatments, painful side-effects and wasting valuable time.

Karsan is leading one jointly supported research project focusing on applying genomics to the management of a devastating and difficult-to-treat form of leukemia called acute myeloid leukemia (AML), with which around 200 British Columbians are diagnosed yearly.

ALM has been chosen for the spearhead Personalized Medical Program because leukemias have been the most investigated form of cancer, Vancouver has world class sequencing and analysis technology, and cell samples donated by cancer patients here to study are “fresh,” said Karsan.

“Cancer is a complicated mix of diseases of different subtypes, driven by a fast range of genetic mutations,” said Karsan.

A developed diagnostics test can identify all developed genetic mutations involved in an individuals’ cancer,” he said.

Former B.C. MLA Sindi Hawkins passed away in 2010 after seven years of battling AML. Her sister Rupinder Sachdeva said Sindi — who raised more than $20 million for cancer research — would’ve had a better quality of life fighting the disease.

“Sindi was very, very brave but the chemo she went through . . . was very, very toxic,” Sachdeva said.

“Here’s something that will decrease the pain and suffering.”

The first year of the two-year AML project will be spent looking at the specific mutations in these banked cell samples.

The second year will enable doctors to “do it in real time, and mix traditional testing with global genomic testing and then be able to make a decision on treatment,” said Karsan.

More than 22,000 British Columbians are diagnosed with different cancers each year: cancers that Karsan hopes will be better diagnosed through the “proof of concept” offered by genomic research and testing.

Treatment for colorectal, lung, and breast cancer can all benefit from this research.

The Personalized Medicine Program is a $9-million project, with $3 million coming from Genome B.C., $1 million from the B.C. Cancer Foundation and the rest from accredited Canadian and International sources.

In 2010 and 2011, the B.C. Cancer Foundation raised almost $40 million for cancer research.

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This entry was posted on Monday, July 4th, 2011 at 4:34 pm and is filed under Health Ideas. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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