Head of the Centre for Clinical Diagnostic Genomics and the Medical Director of the Cancer Genetics Lab, BC Cancer Agency

Right now, cancer treatment is predominantly a one-size-fits-all approach. Cancer patients may undergo multiple courses of treatments until the right one for them is found. As you can imagine, this can cause added stress for patients and their families, as well as the pressure of time—which not all patients can afford to lose.

One of the ideas behind personalized medicine is to provide more effective treatment options for cancer patients upon diagnosis by examining changes in the patient’s tumor DNA to develop an individualized treatment plan for their particular cancer.

Personalized medicine also aims to better understand the differences between tumour types and then use the knowledge to develop more effective treatments. We are working on a project at the BC Cancer Agency that we hope will demonstrate the value of personalized medicine—it’s called the Personalized Medicine Project (PMP).

In my last post, I spoke about acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and the ease of researching this type of cancer in B.C.; for these reasons, AML is one of the first two cancer groups being investigated within the PMP. The other group is high-risk, rare pediatric and young adult cancers.

The PMP is an exciting project to be a part of, because it can pave the way for a wider application of personalized medicine to other cancer types—you have to show that something works in a small population before you can apply it to everyone.

Recent advances in technology at the Genome Sciences Centre (GSC) have made genomic sequence analysis a possible option for diagnostic assessment. In the PMP, we propose to assess a strategy to use genomic analysis of the diseased cells to identify all the specific markers in AML patients. This will help doctors choose the best treatment option for each individual patient. This assessment will also include a health-economics evaluation to determine the most cost-effective approach for providing the best testing for our patients. 

Our end goal is to replace existing methods with a single genomic analysis, which can test for a wide range of markers and keep testing costs at a sustainable level.

Regards,

Aly