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NFCR’s Genomics Newsroom: Using Molecular Imaging to Guide Cancer Therapy

What is “genomics”?

Cancer develops when genetic material (DNA) becomes damaged or changed. We know some cancer- causing genetic changes are acquired (i.e. smoking), while others are inherited. Studying cancer genomics explores the differences between cancer cells and normal cells. Advances in understanding how cancer behaves at the genomic and molecular level are helping oncologists treat cancer with greater success. This is the key to precision medicine, treating each individual’s cancer as unique.

Guiding Cancer Therapy Using Molecular Imaging

Molecular-genetic imaging (also known as molecular imaging) combines conventional anatomic imaging (MRI, CT, PET or ultrasound) with genomic testing and enables doctors to literally see cancer at its molecular or genetic level. Because of this, molecular imaging has the potential to characterize the genotype and phenotype of cancer as well as predict response rates and likely outcomes to selected treatments… all without the need for tissue samples that would be obtained through surgery or biopsy.

Molecular imaging is emerging as yet another tool doctors can use to help choose the most effective treatment(s) for individual patients.  With molecular imaging, doctors can provide more personalized, effective treatments to their patients.

Genomic Testing

While traditional methods treat cancer based on the body part where the cancer first originated, genomic testing looks at cancer on the gene level. Genomic testing reveals the unique genomic drivers or the driver genes for each patient’s cancer.

When combined with the molecular imaging technology, deeper and more detailed information that is specific to an individual cancer patient could be obtained and analyzed by the oncologists, which empowers them to design optimal, individualized therapies to maximize treatment success.

Click here to learn more about genomic testing.

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2017: The Year of Cancer Genomics

A look at major genomic trends shaping healthcare

We are on the cusp of incredible breakthroughs in the fight against cancer. Innovations developed in research laboratories are improving treatments for patients today. By focusing on the genetic makeup of cancer cells – rather than the part of the body where someone’s cancer originated – doctors are beginning to personalize and improve
treatments for individual patients.

“For years, NFCR has been supporting molecular profiling and next-generation sequencing to better diagnose and treat cancer patients with targeted cancer therapies – and it looks like 21st century medicine will be about cancer genomics,” said Franklin Salisbury, Jr., CEO of NFCR. “As we start to move away from the old ‘location-based’ approaches of treating cancer, at NFCR we are excited that doctors everywhere are using targeted cancer therapies to better treat all types of cancer.” He adds: “21st century medicine has embraced genomic technology and the cancer field is at the forefront of these efforts to better treat cancer by looking at the genetic aspects of the disease.”

Below is an excerpt on what to expect in the field of cancer genomics from Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News. The article is titled: “A Look Ahead: Seven Trends Shaping Genomics in 2017 and Beyond.”

Advances in Genome Sequencing, Pharmacogenomics, Gene Editing, and Biometric Wearables Will Provide New Pathways to Better Health

Genomics research holds the key to meeting many of the global healthcare challenges of the years ahead. In the last few years, costs for genetic testing have plummeted, as advances in sequencing technology have made individual genome sequencing economically feasible. Remarkable advances in genomics technologies, including pharmacogenomics, direct-to-consumer genomics, and wearable data-collection devices are leading to large pools of stored data.

Using in-memory computing technology, researchers are able to analyze and use this genomic data in innovative ways, leading to extraordinary changes in the way healthcare is delivered today. Some of these advancements are happening now, as liquid biopsy DNA tests emerge as noninvasive screening options for early cancer detection. And revolutionary gene editing techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9 may soon offer innovative ways to modify genes to treat rare genetic diseases. 

A significant number of large-scale genomic projects are already underway, pointing toward positive advancements in 2017. Here’s a look at seven major trends that will shape the healthcare and life science markets in the field of genomics:

1. Integration of Genomic Data into Clinical Workflows

While major clinical centers such as Stanford Health Care and many cancer research centers are using genomic data to personalize treatments, the use of genomics in clinics nationwide is not yet commonplace.  This will change in 2017… [click here to read full article]

2. On the Rise: Pharmacogenomic

Researchers have already identified a few hundred genes that are related to drug metabolism, and are continuing to identify more …  [click here to read full article]

3. Emergence of Advanced Genomic Editing Techniques

This has great potential, ranging from creating a better food supply in agriculture to correcting specific mutations in the human genome …  [click here to read full article]

4. Noninvasive Cancer Screening

Another key disease-fighting tool to watch in 2017 is DNA liquid biopsy testing: a cancer-screening test based on a simple blood draw …  [click here to read full article]

5. More Direct-to-Consumer Genetics

Companies such as 23andMe offer direct-to-consumer testing, allowing people to explore their genetic makeup. The company provides a test that includes 65 online reports of ancestry, personal traits …  [click here to read full article]

6. Growth of Newborn Genetic Screening Programs

Within the next 10 years, it is quite possible that every new baby will have their genome sequenced … [click here to read full article]

7. Integration of New Data Streams

Population health management may be where analytics bring the broadest rewards, as new data streams that include wearables data, genomics (proteomics and metabolic) data, and clinical data converge to provide a better picture of a patient’s health … [click here to read full article]

As the costs for genetic testing continue to drop and these genomic technologies advance, healthcare will transform, more cures will be discovered and the millions of people worldwide will benefit.

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NFCR’s Genomics Newsroom: Bladder Cancer Could Be Treated the Same Way as Breast Cancer

What is “genomics”?

Cancer develops when genetic material (DNA) becomes damaged or changed. We know some cancer causing genetic changes are acquired (i.e. smoking), while others are inherited. Studying cancer genomics explores the differences between cancer cells and normal host cells. Advances in understanding how cancer behaves at a genomic and molecular level is helping doctors treat cancer “smarter”.

Bladder Cancer: Stepping into the Era of Precision Medicine

Correct diagnosis is the foundation for effective treatment. And looking at the genes instead of just the cancer class is helping improve diagnosis. Traditionally, cancer diagnosis depends heavily on assigning a cancer into certain classes by analyzing cancer’s cell and tissue features. In recent years, gene and other molecular analysis tools have been used more frequently – and the molecular diagnosis practice is paving the road toward the era of precision medicine.

By analyzing molecules and gene sequencing data, a group of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently found that a subtype of bladder cancer has the same molecular signatures as a subset of breast cancer. Both groups express low levels of a protein called claudin and share a same type of immune deficiency.  These similarities could mean it is possible to treat these two types of cancer originating from different anatomic locations with the same regimen of checkpoint inhibitor drugs or an approach of modern immunotherapy.

More research is still needed, but the door is now open to make more accurate and clinically meaningful diagnoses of cancers based on genetic testing results than just on the tissue features viewed from under the microscope. This would make precision medicine possible to benefit thousands of cancer patients around the world.

Genomic Testing

The era of precision medicine is here: Doctors could choose the right therapy for the right patient with the information derived from genomic testing. While traditional methods treat cancer based on the body part where the cancer first originated, genomic testing looks at cancer on the molecular and gene levels.

Genomic testing reveals the unique genomic drivers for each patient’s cancer. This empowers oncologists to design optimal, individualized therapies to maximize treatment success. Click here to learn more about genomic testing.

 

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NFCR’s Genomics Newsroom: Discovery of New Lung Cancer Mutation

What is “genomics”?

Cancer develops when genetic material (DNA) becomes damaged or changed. We know some cancer causing genetic changes are acquired (i.e. smoking), while others are inherited. Studying cancer genomics explores the differences between cancer cells and normal host cells. Advances in understanding how cancer behaves at a genomic and molecular level is helping doctors treat cancer “smarter”.

More Treatment Options for NSCLC Patients with ROS1+ Gene Mutation

lung-cancer-blogIn March 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first and only drug – crizotinib (also known as Xaldori) – to treat people with advanced (metastatic) non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose tumors express the ROS1+ mutation. For NSCLC patients with ROS1+ mutation, crizotinib has stopped the growth and spread of their cancer.

Researchers at University of Colorado Cancer Center have uncovered what they believe to be the cause of this drug resistance: A mutation in the KIT gene, as well as a potential solution. Initial studies show that introducing the drug ponatinib to the treatment regimen may reverse drug resistance, allowing patients to reap the benefits of crizotinib for a longer period of time.

Although further research is needed, this is an important milestone for patients with ROS1+ NSCLC who previously had limited treatment options.

Genomic Testing

While traditional methods treat cancer based on the body part where the cancer first originated, genomic testing looks at cancer on the molecular level.

Genomic testing reveals the unique genomic drivers for each patient’s cancer. This empowers oncologists to design optimal, individualized therapies to maximize treatment success.

To find out if your cancer has ROS1+ or KIT gene mutation, learn more about genomic testing and ask your doctor if it’s right for you.

Related NFCR-Funded Research

A team lead by Dr. Alice Shaw, an NFCR-supported scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, is developing a new platform that can rapidly identify effective drug combinations for lung cancer patients whose tumors have stopped responding to targeted therapy. The team is growing cells in the laboratory that were taken directly from the patients’ cancer and treating them with a host of different drug combinations to find the ones that work. Dr. Shaw says “this strategy might be used to select the optimal treatment for each individual patient, and could also be applied to other types of cancer.”

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WE ARE THE HERETICS: Sequence that cancer!

WE ARE THE HERETICS:  Sequence that cancer!

Heretic: someone who believes or teaches something that goes against accepted or official beliefs        http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/heretic

Here’s an important question: Did your friend’s oncologists sequence their cancer?

You’ve heard a lot about targeted cancer therapies recently.  This is all about molecular profiling, i.e., identifying genetic mutations on a cancer that tell the cell how much and how fast to grow. Sometimes the cancer cells have too many copies of these genes with abnormalities. When there are too many copies of these genes, doctors refer to it as “overexpression.” With some forms of gene overexpression, cancer cells will make too many of the proteins that control cell growth and division, causing the cancer to grow and spread.

An example of this is how some cancer cells make (overexpress) too many copies of a particular gene known as HER2. The HER2 gene makes a protein known as a HER2 receptor. HER2 receptors are like ears, or antennae, on the surface of all cells. These HER2 receptors receive signals that stimulate the cell to grow and multiply. But cancer cells with too many HER2 receptors can pick up too many growth signals and so start growing and multiplying too much and too fast. Cancer cells that overexpress the HER2 gene are said to be HER2-positive.

Herceptin works by attaching itself to the HER2 receptors on the surface of cancer cells and blocking them from receiving growth signals. By blocking the signals, Herceptin can slow or stop the growth of cancers that express the HER2 molecule. Herceptin is an example of an immune targeted therapy. In addition to blocking HER2 receptors, Herceptin can also help fight cancer by alerting the immune system to destroy cancer cells onto which it is attached.

Notice I didn’t say anything about breast cancer.  Or lung cancer.

21st Century cancer treatments don’t have anything to do with where the cancers are located.  Even though the FDA approved Herceptin as a breast cancer treatment, Herceptin has nothing to do with breast cancer.  Herceptin targets the HER2 molecule and it will work on any cancer that expresses the HER2 growth factor receptor.   Many lung cancer patient’s cancers express another growth factor receptor, the so-called Endothelial Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) mutation. And while not all lung cancers carry the EGFR mutation, those that do are sensitive to two drugs that target the EGFR enzyme: Genentech’s Tarceva, and AstraZeneca’s Iressa.

A raft of clinical trials are under way exploring how to capitalize on these findings. Most of them are using Tarceva or Iressa in combination with different chemotherapeutic agents. We have identified 400+ unique genes known to play a role in the initiation and progression of many different cancers, and we are making new discoveries about the significance of these changes almost every day.

For patients and healthcare professionals, genomic insights are helping to transform the way cancer is treated. One-size-fits-all treatment approaches are being replaced by more targeted, personalized approaches. And for certain types of cancer, we can now identify specific genetic and genomic drivers of an individual patient’s disease.

By sequencing your friend’s cancer, the oncologists will have access to genetic and genomic information to match the cancer with a cancer treatment designed to target their specific cancer.  NFCR has funded the scientists who are making all this happen. I am working closely with Dan Von Hoff, co-founder of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) who developed Tarceva; with Dan Haber who is Director of the MGH Cancer Center, and with Raju Kucherlapati, first Scientific Director of the Harvard Medical School-Partners Healthcare Center for Genetics and Genomics.

I ask you about whether your friend’s oncologist had sequenced his tumor?

There are new companies and tests emerging that can rapidly turnaround fast answers to a large array of questions.

(adopted from a letter by NFCR CEO Franklin Salisbury June 2016, after the Albert Szent Gyorgyi prize was awarded to Mary Claire King, PhD.)

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