Johns Hopkins Medicine received $30 million in funding from the Commonwealth Foundation for Cancer Research to help the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center establish a “Center for Personalized Cancer Medicine”. The Cancer Center can now bring together experts from many disciplines including oncology, biomedical engineering, public health, and surgery.
Funds for the Center will initially support three pilot projects over four years to focus on changes in cancer-related DNA mutations inside cells as well as any genetic changes outside of cells nuclear DNA, known as epigenetic alternations.
“With this important information, clinicians will be able to help cancer patients by tailoring drug treatment to their disease, track its progress, and avoid unnecessary treatments. Some cancers may be prevented altogether, which would slash the costs of new drug discoveries by limiting “hit and miss” approaches,” reports Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center Director, William G. Nelson, M.D. PhD.
The funding will support research and development of new technologies to pinpoint the novel genetic characteristics of each patient’s cancer. Hopkins scientists and officials say this will speed the development of therapies based on an individual cancer patient’s genetic “fingerprint”.
Johns Hopkins scientists have pioneered numerous ways to decipher the genetic landscape of various cancers, uncovering key genetic mutations and pathways in breast, colon, brain, and pancreatic cancer.
For example a blood test called “Personalized Analysis or Rearranged Ends” (PARE) not only detects cancer genes but also can tell if a therapy is working by measuring in real-time, the amount of a particular cancer’s DNA in the bloodstream. The test can also verify a cure or document the need for further treatment, freeing patients who are proven cancer free from unneeded treatments.
Investigators are going to examine which genomic and epigenomic factors affect responses to treatment in patients with leukemia and lung cancer and develop tests for early detection of various other kinds of cancers. Based on genetic or epigenetic markers, scientists are already creating individualized immunotherapies such as cancer vaccines using the specific genetic makeup of each patient’s tumor.