Science Friday — Genetically Targeted Cancer Treatments

Being a two-time cancer survivor I am always interested in the next big thing scientists are finding to help in the treatment for cancer. New York Times wrote a 3 part article about Dr. Lukas Wartman of Washington University, a doctor who specializes in leukemia who was diagnosed with leukemia.

After his diagnosis, his colleagues at the university’s genome institute decided to see if they could find the cancer gene that was causing the cancer instead of the cells or organs. Last fall his colleagues were successful in sequencing his cancer genome and what they found led to a treatment plan targeting his specific genetic makeup. This experimental treatment has so far been a success. 

Dr. Ley’s team tried a type of analysis that they had never done before. They fully sequenced the genes of both his cancer cells and healthy cells for comparison, and at the same time analyzed his RNA, a close chemical cousin to DNA, for clues to what his genes were doing. 

The researchers on the project put other work aside for weeks, running one of the university’s 26 sequencing machines and supercomputer around the clock. And they found a culprit — a normal gene that was in overdrive, churning out huge amounts of a protein that appeared to be spurring the cancer’s growth. 

Even better, there was a promising new drug that might shut down the malfunctioning gene — a drug that had been tested and approved only for advanced kidney cancer. Dr. Wartman became the first person ever to take it for leukemia.  And now, against all odds, his cancer is in remission and has been since last fall. 

While no one can say that Dr. Wartman is cured, after facing certain death last fall, he is alive and doing well. Dr. Wartman is a pioneer in a new approach to stopping cancer. What is important, medical researchers say, is the genes that drive a cancer, not the tissue or organ — liver or brain, bone marrow, blood or colon — where the cancer originates. 

One woman’s breast cancer may have different genetic drivers from another woman’s and, in fact, may have more in common with prostate cancer in a man or another patient’s lung cancer. 

Read the full article: “In Treatment for Leukemia, Glimpses of the Future.” 

Part two in the series: “A New Treatment’s Tantalizing Promise Brings Heartbreaking Ups and Downs” 

And part three: “A Game Changer in Revealing a Cancer’s Prognosis.” 

One more thing.  I found this great site (here) that actually tracks in real-time conversations about breast cancer on twitter.


4 responses to “Science Friday — Genetically Targeted Cancer Treatments

  1. As always, it’s great to see these accomplishments in medical science. Sadly however this country has an economic system whereby only the wealthiest amongst us tend to benefit from them.

    Wasn’t aware you were a one-time cancer survivor Angela, much more a two-time survivor. That’s gotta be a tough thing to face.

    • “blockquote>this country has an economic system whereby only the wealthiest amongst us tend to benefit from them”

      I agree. This is an example of possibly a great breakthrough in the treatment for breast cancer, however, the way our system is set up, only a few people could afford to benefit from treatment like this — or a middle/lower class person with insurance would go bankrupt getting this treatment.

      “That’s gotta be a tough thing to face.”

      Yes it is. However, I was 6 years old when I was first diagnosed with cancer, so aside from the surgeries and radiation therapy it was actually fun because I was able to ride on a plane for the first and stay in a hotel for the first time, etc. So it was tougher on my parents than on me. The second diagnosis I was in my mid 20s and that was a lot more tough, but I got through it and it made me a stronger person and appreciate life more.

      Don’t dwell on the small stuff and enjoy everyday because none of us know if it is our last 🙂

  2. “Don’t dwell on the small stuff an”

    Nicely said Angela

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