Swedish Cancer Institute saving lives with tumor DNA

By Erin Bosetti

Swedish Hospital has recently welcomed the opening of the Swedish Cancer Institute Personalized Medicine Program. The new program incorporates cutting edge technology that uses the DNA of a patient’s tumor to find the best treatment and survivorship options for that specific person. DNA technology being used by Swedish was only seen in clinical trials but they are offering it as part of their program, which is working in tandem with their new oncology facility in Ballard.

“We are learning increasingly that the traditional way of treating patients with cancer is you treat based on where someone’s cancer started.” says Dr. Thomas Brown, executive director of the Swedish Cancer Institute. “We are learning increasingly what’s more important is the molecular fingerprint of ones cancer that then gives some guidance to not only selecting therapies but addressing prevention [and] survivorship plans after the patient has been treated”.

While providing traditional and holistic therapies, such as caring for the patient and family both physically and mentally, as well as integrative medicine approaches, the Personalized Medicine Program will be incorporating new technology that uses gene mapping of the tumor itself as a guide for the most effective treatment.

The strongest component of this new technology is the use of Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) that enables rapid sequencing of genes of many specimens at once. The program will then look for mutations within the DNA of a patient’s cancer cells that can be correlated with treatment components.

A good example of how these molecular fingerprints work is a mutation found in advanced colon cancer tumors, called the KRAS mutation, which will make a drug called Erbitux ineffective. This technology will save the patient and doctors valuable time in their fight by directing them towards the most effective treatments and away from the wrong ones. The technology will also help “match a patient’s molecular fingerprint to a clinical trial, so if there is an experimental drug that addresses a certain mutation (it can be used)” says Dr. Brown.

In addition, specialists are keeping a collection of data from the mutations in different tumors (with patients permissions) and studied with new technology. This could facilitate saving more and more lives as the program progresses by accumulating a catalog of different mutations and treatment effectiveness.

“Our goal is that every patient that comes to our door will be offered access to this,” says Dr. Brown. He adds, “The whole point is 10 to 15 years from now we won’t be looking at things from an organ standpoint, we will be looking at the molecular fingerprint of the tumor itself. It’s not fantasy, it’s not magic, but it’s an important addition to what we normally do.”

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