Tumor Profiling

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 - 10:49am

Mapping a tumor's genes can improve treatment options.

A Connecticut lab is at the forefront of medical breakthroughs when it comes to treating cancer.

Researchers at the non-descript lab in New Haven's Smilow Cancer Hospital are slicing tumors open, looking at its thousands of genes and identifying the ones that are mutated and causing the cancer.

It's called molecular tumor profiling, and it's the latest weapon being used in the war against cancer.

"It's really a process by which we do an examination of tumors that was not done previously," says lab director Dr. Jeffrey Sklar. "It was not possible previously."

The process works by taking a small sample of a person's tumor and mapping out its genes.

Once they are all laid out the lab can see which one or ones are not normal.

That information is then used by doctors to come up with the best medicine for that specific patient's cancer.

"There's much more of a matching process that goes on to fit the right drug to the right tumor," says. Dr. Sklar.

This medical breakthrough is a move away from the traditional way cancer has been treated for decades.

"Previously there were basically three modes of treatment for cancer. There was surgery, radiation, and there was chemotherapy and these were applied to every type of cancer," Dr. Sklar explains.

All three cause severe side effects.

This new method of testing tumors could eliminate that.

Dr. Sklar says researchers are now able to concentrate their efforts on developing specific medicines for specific mutations.

"The previous type of therapy was a blunt instrument that was used to attack these tumors and there was a lot of collateral damage in the process and those drugs are still very useful to be sure but these newer drugs are more like scalpels or lasers. They hit the tumors but they don't hit the normal tissue," he says.

And in that way the mutated genes are melted away.

This testing is still new and so far there are only a handful of cancers that this can help.

"These newer drugs are very specifically targeted," says Dr. Sklar. "They hit only the abnormal tumors, the abnormal cells, only the cells with the right mutations in them. Normal cells don't have these mutations."

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