Monday, December 19, 2011

Personalised medicine for cancer patients is coming

A group of scientists have devoted themselves to the development of personalised cancer treatments. Their main goal is to develop strategies to provide each cancer patient with cutting edge therapies, based on a personal profile of the disease. That means future patients will have the characteristics of their tumour assessed, and be given drugs that specifically target the type of tumour they have. Personalised medicine is hallowed to become the next great step in medicine.

Lab clinic
The researchers, working in Adelaide, will be setting up a research lab where new drugs will be individually tested on cancer patients. For this to happen, they need to be aware of variations in molecular structures present on the tumour, which they can base their individual therapy on. This approach is radically different from conventional drug development, which is first tested on a group of healthy people, after which a small group of patients receive the novel treatment. In Adelaide, drugs are based on the patient, instead of the other way around.

Genetic analysis
Most important to developing individualized medicine is sequencing of the genetic code present in cancer cells. By assessing changes in gene expression, scientists can see which proteins are present in higher quantities, and which ones are less prevalent. Consequently, this can form the basis of a drug that targets specific molecules, only found in the patient's tumour. Because cancer cells are genetically unstable, they are able to modify their behaviour rapidly. It can also cause them to die, but the constant genetic variation in many cells will eventually result in a single cell that outperforms all the others and grows to become a tumour.

If their idea works, a system will be set up for patient screening. After analysis, doctors will determine what kind of drugs would suit them best, which are then served up in a cocktail, tailor-made for each patient. By studying individual patients, the scientists hope to find new molecular targets for killing cancer cells, which form the basis of new drugs which are highly specific, so healthy cells are left untouched.

Conventional therapy
Cancer patients are mostly treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. These two forms of treatment are generally toxic, and proof to be very efficient in killing malicious cells. The downside is that healthy cells are also affected: the therapies are not very specific, which forms the biggest problem for cancer treatment nowadays.

Targeting cancer cells
Scientists have long tried to specifically target cancer cells, whilst leaving healthy tissue intact. However, this has not proven to be easy, especially because malicious cells can change their behaviour if they are not eradicated fast enough. Additionally, every cell in our body can in potential grow to become a full-size tumour, which highlights the enormous amounts of variations we can find in cancer cells. We do know of certain molecules predominantly found on cancer cells, but targeting and killing them efficiently is still not very easy. Interesting new techniques are developed to kill cancer cells from the inside, or by letting them starve

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