Cancer Center Acquires New Technology 

Research Aimed at Individualizing Treatment

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.— Researchers at West Virginia University’s Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center have acquired cutting edge technology that offers great potential for improving cancer treatment.

The DNA sequencer, housed in a core facility supported by the Cancer Center and the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center, is a sophisticated device that provides a new approach for studying the molecular characteristics of tumors. The sequencer measures gene variations that are most sensitive to drugs proven effective in targeting cancer cells.

“The goal is to develop targeted treatment strategies that are tailored to patients, based on their genetic pattern,” says William Petros, PharmD, associate director for

anti-cancer drug development, and the lead author of a recent article in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.  The article linked anti-cancer drug activity to common genetic variations.

“There are multiple drugs available now that target specific molecular abnormalities in tumors and many more are being developed,” says Dr. Petros, professor of basic pharmaceutical sciences and associate professor of biochemistry and molecular pharmacology in the School of Medicine.  “These drugs are more selective and effective against cancer cells and minimally toxic to normal cells.”

However, targeted drugs are only effective in a subset of patients.  “We do not have routine clinical tests that allow us to predict which patients may benefit from these new drugs,” says Petros.

Scientists at WVU are initially using the sequencer to analyze genetic information found in tissue samples from biopsies of tumors in head and neck as well as lung cancer patients.  The goal is to determine the success of this approach for identification of patients who would most likely benefit from targeted cancer drugs and subsequently develop a protocol to treat them.  During the latter phase, scientists will look for genetic

variations that may influence the ability of a patient to respond to or break down drugs and collaborate with oncologists to determine the best possible treatment regimens and dosages for patients on a case by case basis.

“The future of cancer treatment will be based on the characteristics of an individual patient’s normal and cancer cells,” says Ramin Altaha, M.D., the principal investigator of the study.  “For example, the molecular characteristics of lung cancer patients may vary.  With our new technique we are able to identify the variations.”

“We are planning to use this as a prospective approach for cancer treatment,” adds Dr. Altaha. “Not every patient will benefit from FDA-approved targeted drugs.  Our goal is to use tumor genetic testing to match the right drug to the right patient.”

WVU’s Cancer Center is one of few research institutions in the country conducting a novel study of this type.

Funding for the DNA sequencer was made possible by the Sara C. and James F. Allen Comprehensive Cancer Research Endowment established by Joyce and John Allen of Coalton, W.Va., and the Mylan chair of Pharmacology Endowment.

- WVU -

For more information:
Sherry Stoneking, Cancer Center (304) 293-4599

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