Precision Medicine: Killing Cancer

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The Precision Medicine Initiative is an innovative approach to attacking diseases, like cancer, by linking a person's genes with a targeted therapy. In many cases, the results are amazing. (KFSN)

In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama announced the launching of a precision medicine initiative. It's an innovative approach to attacking diseases, like cancer, by linking a person's genes with a targeted therapy. In many cases, the results are amazing.

Nine years ago, Donna Lawson was diagnosed with a tough to treat, triple negative breast cancer. She endured six years of chemo and radiation, and the cancer kept coming back.

Lawson told Ivanhoe, "You just think that you're going to die."

Then Donna joined a cancer genetics study that saved her life. Researchers at Baylor teamed up with T-Gen, the Translational Genomics Research Institute to map the unique genetic code of Donna's tumor. From that data they determined a precise drug to target the tumor. Donna has been cancer-free for the past three years.

Alan Miller, MD, Chief of Oncology at Baylor Scott & White Health - North Texas in Dallas told Ivanhoe, "She is reportedly doing wonderfully, has negative scans, negative is good in this case, and is a great example of the power of this type of technology."

Precision medicine approaches include combining targeted drugs with immunotherapy to attack cancer in new ways.

Dr. Miller said, "We have to do more for each patient to understand the cancer, to have an individualized profile, rather than say, one-size- fits- all."

For Donna, that means more time with her granddaughters and her family.

She said, "No matter what the next scan brings, I appreciate the extra time that I've had because I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Researchers believe they are zeroing in on treatments and vaccines that may one day make cancer a disease that can be treated, prevented, and cured.

BACKGROUND: Breast cancer is a type of malignant tumor that develops from the cells of the breast tissue. All cancers are started from an excess of abnormal cells in tissues. Though breast cancer is commonly found in women, men have been known to develop the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 230,000 cases in women and 2,000 in men are diagnosed every year in the United States. Breast cancer patients tend to develop symptoms of sore nipples or breast pain, swollen lymph nodes, and a lump in the breast or armpit. There are a number of risk factors that can contribute to developing breast cancer, including, but not limited to the patient's age, personal history, family history, exposure to chest radiation, and race.

SUBTYPES OF BREAST CANCER: Researchers have been studying the molecular subtypes of breast cancer that have been shown to help in developing targeted treatments and new therapies. The subtypes are diagnosed based on their lack of receptors known to progress breast cancer. The four subtypes are:

Luminal A - Meaning that the cancer is estrogen receptor-positive and HER2 receptor-negative, the most common of all breast cancers.

Luminal B - Meaning the cancer is estrogen receptor-positive and/or progesterone receptor-positive and HER2 receptor-positive.

Triple negative/basal-like - The cancer is estrogen receptor-negative, progesterone receptor-negative, and HER2 receptor-negative.

HER2 type - Cancer that is estrogen receptor-negative, progesterone receptor-negative and HER2 receptor-positive, the rarest of breast cancer subtypes.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Donna Lawson, a triple negative breast cancer patient, has been participating in a genetics study with the Baylor Research Institute. The study, led by Alan Miller, MD, Chief of Oncology at Baylor Scott and White Health in North Texas, is using precision medicine to develop a personalized treatment for patients like Donna. Precision medicine is a term used for the treatment plan combining established pathological indexes with molecular profiling of the patient. These strategies enable doctors to create individualized treatment for their patients. President Barack Obama announced the initiative for the United States on January 20, 2015 and the program will be funded with $215 million in the fiscal year 2016. The funding will go to assist the efforts in cancer genomics and the development of individualized care.
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