A Day At Dana-Farber: Genomics and Precision Medicine

Yup. I’m officially a terrible blogger. However, I’m back, and I’m about to talk to you about what I learned at Dana-Farber in regards to Genomics and Precision Medicine.

One of the greatest discoveries in cancer treatments has to be precision medicine, in my non-professional opinion. While I was at Dana-Farber, I got to hear about precision medicine and genomics and learned at how it’s advancing cancer treatments across the board.

Gene mutations are, in some cases, what causes cancer. For example, in the case of metastatic melanoma (skin cancer), half of the patients with the disease have a genetic mutation that causes it. How did this statistic come to be? Research. Research thanks to your generous donations. Here’s just one story about how our funds allowed for a major discovery that’s starting to show promise in all sorts of cancer treatments.

Researchers determined that a mutation in one specific gene could cause the melanoma to develop. This discovery was obviously great news, because it gave doctors and researchers a target. It gave them something to attack. A study was done in which patients were given new targeted therapies (precision medicine developed based on this research) in addition to chemotherapy, and it turned out that they responded better than patients who received chemotherapy alone.

Unfortunately, at times, the cancers were still coming back. Researchers and doctors realized that they may need a different approach and started looking at the overall tumors instead of just the one gene they knew caused the cancer to start. They developed an algorithm and were able to determine where a second mutation that caused the recurrence was developing. Because of this discovery, they were able to combine the targeted therapies for both gene mutations, and patients responded with even better results.

This led to genome sequencing and the discovery of genome-wide properties indicating that the response rate of these targeted therapies, in combination with immunotherapies, would extend the life expectancy of cancer patients. And that extension isn’t minor–it’s an extension from months to years. Because of the great success of these types of treatments with metastatic melanoma, researching these types of therapies has begun across all types of cancer.

The sad part is, despite the fact that advances like this have just been made over the past 5 years, it’s still considered high-risk science…even though it has turned out to be high-reward. It has been the policy not to fund research like this through government grants in the past, which is where people like you and I come in. Our donations to the Jimmy Fund support this type of research. Our donations are used to make things like targeted therapies and genome sequencing possible. Our donations can help extend someone’s lifespan after a cancer diagnosis from a few months to years.

Precision medicine is a truly exciting development in cancer treatment. The more tumors and genes are studied, the better the chances of survivorship are. I don’t know about you, but these studies sound like a good use of money to me.

Additional information:

  • Cancer can now be studied using blood tests as opposed to tumor biopies
  • Genomic sequencing can now be generated for all of the cells in a tumor from biopsies
  • The “Moonshot Initiative” is all about precision medicine. Many Dana-Farber doctors and researchers are on the panel for this initiative and while they’re not sure exactly what will come of it, some of the funds will help support these targeted therapy research projects.

To donate: http://www.jimmyfundwalk.org/2016/leede



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