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Cancer Care Gets Personal

New test helps personalize care choices for melanoma, some lung tumors

December 8, 2010 | Dagny Stuart

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center has become the first cancer center in the Southeast and one of the first in the nation to offer adult cancer patients routine “genotyping” of their tumors at the DNA level.

PCMI team

Jeffrey Sosman, M.D., left, William Pao, M.D., Ph.D., and Cindy Vnencak-Jones, Ph.D., are leading Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center’s new Personalized Cancer Medicine Initiative.

The recently launched Personalized Cancer Medicine Initiative will personalize cancer treatment by matching the appropriate therapy to the genetic changes, or mutations, that are driving the cancer’s growth.

The first tumors to be tested are types of non-small cell lung cancer and melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. Both have been notoriously difficult to treat, but new therapies that target specific genetic alterations in the tumors have shown promising results.

Vanderbilt’s Personalized Cancer Medicine Program is led by William Pao, M.D., Ph.D., Ingram Associate Professor of Cancer Research and an expert in lung cancer.

“Over the past decade, it has become clear that the genetic make-up of a patient’s tumor can have a significant impact on the patient’s response to targeted therapy,” Pao said. With this genetically informed cancer medicine approach, we should achieve better outcomes.”

Jeffrey Sosman, M.D., professor of Medicine, noted that having the genotype information is also important to help patients avoid the side effects of traditional chemotherapy.

“If (we find that) a tumor is likely to respond to a targeted therapy, then we can avoid the side effects of traditional chemotherapy,” said Sosman, who directs the center’s Melanoma Program.

Vanderbilt is further leading the nation by leveraging its sophisticated Electronic Medical Record to use the genotype information in point-of-care decision-making – which will ensure that “all health care providers at Vanderbilt caring for the patient are fully informed and guided by the latest decision support on these advanced therapies,” said Dan Masys, M.D., chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics.

Vanderbilt-Ingram Director Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., says this initiative “is our commitment to providing the most cutting-edge treatment for our patients.”

“Through a unique and cohesive set of advances that combine innovations in healthcare informatics, genomics, and drug discovery, we are beginning to ‘deliver’ on the promise of the Human Genome Project, with highly personalized therapy for our patients,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.

Photo(s) By: Photo by Mary Donaldson