Molecular Profiling – a cure for cancer?
Author: Jennifer Goulding 42749710
Last year saw 114,000 cases of cancer diagnosed in Australia alone, with one in two experiencing cancer before the age of 85 (Cancer Council Australia 2011). Cancer is one of the most socially recognized diseases in the world today, and with no cure, research into cancer treatment is of significant priority to doctors and scientists. In the last few decades, studies into cancer therapy have introduced many specialized treatments, with patients regularly undergoing a trial and error process of different drugs. More recently, sufferers of different cancers are anticipating the success of individualizing medications using recent advancements in genetics.
Traditionally, cancer is diagnosed by mutations in the morphological (structural) appearance of cells and surrounding tissue, then classed into broad treatment groups (high, medium or low risk) and medicated accordingly (Cross & Burmester 2004). However, researchers from the Centre for Personalised Medicine in the United States believe that traditional methods of cancer diagnosis offer little information for truly effective treatment and the patient is administered drugs that may have little to no effect on the state of the disease (Cross & Burmester 2004).
(Centre for Cancer Cell Biology n.d)
Recently, researchers have been working on identifying the genetic basis of cancers using molecular profiling. It has been found that classification of cancerous tissue according to its molecular appearance allows for a more detailed understanding of what medication is most likely to intervene in the cancers growth. The process behind the development of a molecular profile uses microarray technology that provides information on thousands of genes and outlines their expression patterns. These patterns are then compared to the profiles of cancers with known outcomes, enabling a tailored cancer treatment (Cross & Burmester 2004).
Microarray technology to determine gene expression patterns
(National Cancer Institute n.d)
A study conducted by the Translational Genomics Research Institute of Phoenix found that molecular profiling of 66 cancer patients from nine cancer centres in the United States lived longer after molecular profiling of their cancer allowed for a more targeted drug regimen (Powell 2009). For the study to be considered a significant breakthrough, researchers aimed to improve the survival rate of patients participating in the study by at least 15% (Powell 2009). Results indicated that 18 out of the 66 involved (27%) showed progress due to new medications administered as part of the investigation, averaging an overall survival of 9.7 months (Powell 2009).
Although molecular profiling for cancer patients is not routine, it is a step in the right direction for a more targeted and personalized approach to treatment (Powell 2009). Further research into molecular profiling for cancer patients hopes to not only allow more specific drug treatments to be administered, but also be able to provide information on the cancers metastatic potential and allow patients to decide on more aggressive treatments earlier on in the course of the disease (Cross & Burmester 2004). As technologies advance, molecular profiling may become a routine procedure that is administered upon diagnosis, giving greater hope for recovery and potentially eliminating the possibility of relapse (Powell 2009).
Cross, D & Bermester, JK 2004, ‘The Promise of Molecular Profiling for Cancer Identification and Treatment’, Clinical Medicine & Research, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 147-150
Cancer Council Australia 2012, Facts and Figures, viewed 14 March 2012, http://www.cancer.org.au/Newsmedia/factsfigures.htm
Powell, K 2009, ‘Genetic profiling used to tailor cancer therapy’, Nature-International weekly journal of science, viewed 15 March 2012, http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090421/full/news.2009.378.html