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Precision Oncology Takes a Team
Updated: Feb 28, 2021
Advances in sequencing genes and enhanced knowledge of human genes permit drug and other therapies to be individualized for each patient. This approach of "precision" or "personalized" medicine has particularly important implications for patients with cancer and allows for the selection of chemotherapeutic drugs which are most likely to be effective in specific patients while minimizing their side effects.
The general approach to precision oncology is to perform gene sequencing in cancer cells obtained from a biopsy of a tumor or its metastases or in circulating cancer cells in the case of leukemia or other forms of blood cancer. Using powerful computational techniques and the extensive knowledge of the human genome that is now available, predictions can be made as to what drugs the cancer will respond to, and which drugs should not be used in an individual patient since they are likely to produce side effects with little chance of benefit. In some cases, cancer cells from an individual patient can be implanted in a genetically modified mouse with a human immune system and then the chemotherapeutic drugs with predicted efficacy can be tested to see if the cancer does shrink and respond as predicted.
Because of the need to use highly sophisticated gene sequencing techniques and artificial intelligence driven computer decision making programs, only a few hospitals have sufficient expertise to use precision medicine with cancer patients. Even fewer children’s hospitals have the physician and scientific teams to apply these powerful techniques to children with cancer. Since outcomes from cancer in children and adults can be improved through using precision medicine techniques, it is important for patients with cancer to be seen in a hospital that is expert in this area.
By Dr. Edward Abraham
Pulmonary Medicine & Critical Care Physician