Tumor barcode?

Here’s a nice summary of where things stand in the “post-genomic” world of “molecular medicine” vis-a-vis cancer. It’s from the U Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Some quotes:

…in this era of molecular biology, oncology researchers are honing in on the proteins involved in the development and progression of cancer. Only by knowing the proteins altered, or responsible, for unrelenting cell growth can researchers control cancer. And turning cancer into a treatable, even preventable, disease is everyone’s hope.

The hunt is on at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center to find such “markers” of cancer – a barcode of proteins or genes that identifies cells that have turned cancerous and gives hints as to how a patient’s unique tumor can be treated.

These barcodes are expected to revolutionize cancer care, changing it from treatment based on a tumor’s location in the body, to one that centers on an individual’s unique cancer. A patient will not be just told that she has, say, breast cancer, but will be given a genetic/proteomic profile of her tumor, complete with a list of therapies shown to work with her subtype.

“This truly will bring individualized treatment to oncology,” he says, “and that will bring us closer to our ultimate goal – finding cancer early when it is most curable or making the disease one that can be chronically treated, manageable for many years.”

…investigators are finding that the biology of a cancer cell is changeable, so that genes and proteins found to be switched on in a cancer cell one day may not be active the next day. For example, when a chemotherapy drug shuts down one crucial molecular “pathway” of protein in a tumor, other redundant pathways may take over.

When Hamilton looked at what happened to genes in colon cancer cells after exposure to the common chemotherapy drug 5FU, he saw “an astounding change in gene response – 500 genes showed alterations, and 15 percent of all genes in the cell changed their response in a three-day period,” he says. “Cancer cells don’t sit by and let themselves be killed. They respond with an absolute ballet of protein molecules handing off functions to one another.”

The article goes on to discuss the sub-types of common cancers being identified and “personalized medicine.”

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