Monday, May 21, 2012

Biomarker predicts response to cancer treatment

Clinicians have a vast arsenal of anti-cancer drugs available to them in order to treat patients. Because there is a lot of variance between cancer types and also between individual patients, there is no miracle drug that cures everyone. It is therefore not always easy to assess what the best treatment option is for a patient: not everyone responds to a drug in the same way, which means it would be beneficial to have the ability to predict whether a tumour is treatable with a certain drug. Scientists from the University of Leuven discovered a genetic variant in patients that predicts whether their cancer treatment will be effective, providing clinicians with a useful tool to come up with a therapeutic strategy.

The scientists analysed patients suffering from pancreatic and kidney cancer that received conventional cancer treatment with an additional experimental drug called bevacizumab. This drug is currently undergoing clinical trials, but scientists want to find out in advance whether it is of any use to the patients receiving it. A certain genetic variant, present in some of the patients with the aforementioned forms of cancer, can accurately predict whether the treatment will work or not. They found it by analysing the genetic make-up of their patients, whereafter they tried to link known genetic variants to clinical outcome.

Because it has predictive value, the genetic variant found by the scientists of the University of Leuven can be regarded as a biomarker. There are many forms of biomarkers, some revealing the presence of a disease, while others indicate that a person is healthy. By attaching presence of molecules in the body to disease, new ways of diagnoses and treatment evaluation become available. Because biomarkers are often much easier to analyse than the disease they are associated with, and have predictive value, they are an increasingly important tool for clinicians.

Finding biomarkers that tell you something about whether a treatment option is going to work is extremely important. Once these methods find a way into the clinic, there is less uncertainty when it comes to evaluating what the best therapy is for a certain patient. While scientists mostly look for biomarkers that indicate presence of disease, those that actually have predictive value about the patient's health outcome are especially powerful. Doctors also waste less time on expensive treatments, which is good for the healthcare system altogether. Therefore, what the Leuven scientists have shown is of the utmost importance for patients, clinicians and healthcare in general. Individual treatment is the future of medicine, and biomarkers will be there to help achieve it.

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