Scientists have taken another small step in the march toward personalized medicine.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center announced yesterday it has assembled the “most comprehensive” genomic analysis of prostate cancer to date. The hope is that the database will result in new drug targets and the development of clinically meaningful patient subgroups to help tailor individual treatment decisions. Senior study author Charles Sawyers, MD, said in a release:
"One of the holy grails of prostate cancer is to identify which tumors need to be aggressively treated and which don't. Ultimately, what we have learned could lead to the creation of a genetic-based test to determine which prostate cancers might become more virulent and require aggressive treatment and which tumors may not.”
The difference between aggressive treatment and a “wait and watch” approach has obvious quality-of-life implications for prostate cancer patients.
The study, published online yesterday in the journal Cancer Cell, was based on 12 cell lines and 218 primary and metastatic samples from patients treated by radical prostatectomy.
Despite Sloan-Kettering's notable accomplishment, cancer’s adaptability remains a challenge for researchers working to deliver personalized vaccines targeted to a patient’s own tumor cells. University of London professor of cancer genetics Michael Stratton, PhD, tells Scientific American:
"Here it is the 10th anniversary of the human genome, and I have PhD students in my lab who say 'I can't understand how an old man like you possibly worked on this stuff before the genome was decoded. Why did you even bother?'" But Stratton is convinced that in a few years time, once the full pattern of the cancer genome is revealed, his next group of students will ask the same question about the present state of research. "These are transformative times," he says. "Some pathways to the answers are clear. Most aren't."