Precision Medicine Research in Blood Cancer

I recently attended a fascinating discussion in precision medicine in cancer care. Precision medicine is the tailoring of treatment for the specific needs and unique characteristics of a patient and their particular type of cancer. One of the speakers was Pam Becker, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine for the Division of Hematology, at University of Washington, attending physician at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and clinical researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Dr. Becker studies why certain patients with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) don’t respond to certain treatments. Understanding why some treatments work – and others don’t – for people with AML can also help researchers understand how cancer treatments work for other types of cancer. Dr. Becker and her team are working to develop a test to determine which medicines are best for a particular cancer. Similar to how antibiotics are chosen for their ability to treat certain bacterial infections, Dr. Becker is striving to create a similar approach that can customize the treatment to a particular individual.

The need for more personalized treatment

Most people diagnosed with leukemia get a chemotherapy regimen that uses a combination of two drugs, and for the majority, the treatment works to put their cancer into remission. However, for about a third of patients, the treatment doesn’t work, or in medical terms, their cancer “doesn’t respond.”

The chemotherapy regimen is costly – financially and physically, with significant side effects and potentially life-threatening complications. Dr. Becker’s research aims to figure out which treatments work best for each patient, providing individuals with a better chance for a positive outcome without a trial-and-error approach.

Understanding the cancer’s blueprint

Dr. Becker and her team use flow cytometry machines and artificial intelligence to test cancer samples, determining the specific genetic mutations of each cancer and figuring out which treatment would work best, leveraging treatments for other types of cancers as well as those traditionally for blood cancer.

One of the tricky aspects of cancer is its ability to continue to mutate, which can change its vulnerability to certain treatments and make it resistant to a treatment that worked before. Dr. Becker understands this complexity. In fact, she has found that people often have different cancer strains at the same time. Some cancer cells may have one set of genetic mutations, while other cancer cells have a completely different set. Illuminating these genetic differences and understanding which mutations can be successfully treated with a particular drug is the hallmark of precision medicine.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Blood-Cancer.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
Targeting cancer precisely. University of Washington. Available at http://www.washington.edu/boundless/targeting-cancer/. Accessed 10/12/18.

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