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New Cancer Treatment Initiatives

By    |   Tuesday, 03 Mar 2015 04:48 PM

When you hear the term “miracle drug,” it’s usually time to get suspicious.

After all, the Internet is filled with wondrous claims about this or that new medication. But the drug — actually a combination of drugs — discussed in a “New York Times” story last week actually does offer hope to patients with hard-to-treat cancers.

In the article, Erika Hurwitz, a 78-year-old New York woman, used the magical but usually dubious phrase to describe the astonishing results when a drug for melanoma was used to treat her rare cancer of the white blood cells. Within four weeks, her cancer was undetectable.

Hurwitz is part of a new national effort to try to treat cancer based not on what organ they began in, but on what mutations drive their growth.

According to the story, while such an approach has worked in a few isolated cases, those cases cannot reveal whether other patients with the same mutation would have a similar experience.

Now, medical facilities like Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, where Hurwitz is a patient, are launching coordinated efforts to find answers.

And this spring, a federally funded national program will start to screen tumors in thousands of patients to see which might be attacked by any of at least a dozen new drugs. These revolutionary efforts are being called “basket studies” because they lump together different kinds of cancer.

I have interviewed cancer specialists who told me that researchers usually limit themselves by focusing on each type of cancer’s individual characteristics, rather than looking for commonalities across cancer types.

A companion approach, called the Pan-Cancer Initiative, analyzed the molecular aberrations in cancer cells across a range of tumor types, yielding many new findings.

Launched at a meeting in 2012 at the University of California, Santa Cruz, the initiative is part of the Cancer Genome Atlas project led by the National Cancer Institute and the National Human Genome Research Institute.

“For years we've been looking at one tumor type at a time, but there are patterns you can only spot by making connections across different tissues and tumor types,” said Josh Stuart, professor of biomolecular engineering at the university and an organizer of the initiative. “Finding these similarities across tissues can have important implications for treatment.”

These are exciting examples on two fronts of the fast pace in cancer research giving hope to many people.

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A combination of drugs discussed in a “New York Times” story last week offers hope to patients with hard-to-treat cancers.
cancer, treatment, Sloan Kettering, miracle cure
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2015-48-03
Tuesday, 03 Mar 2015 04:48 PM
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