Commentary from Dario C. Altieri, M.D.
Congratulations are in order for The Cancer Genome Atlas Network, for their publication in Nature over the weekend that announced the most comprehensive analysis of breast cancer genetics yet published. Their findings have shown how the disease can be categorized by four distinct genetic profiles, and have identified genetic markers within each category that might advance cancer care by providing new, druggable targets. (See coverage here and here.)
Their work expands on a research theme that The Wistar Institute Cancer Center embraces wholeheartedly, namely that we need to better understand the genetics of both individual patients and their tumors in order to develop new targeted therapies that work thoroughly and safely. That is personalized medicine in a nutshell: getting the right drug to the right patient at the right time and—more importantly—identifying the patients who won’t be helped by a particular therapy, saving time, money, and lives, in the long run.
These findings also support our position that we, as a society, should devote more resources to the development of targeted drug therapies against cancer. A given tumor might be fueled by the action of a handful of genes that we may target. But to make that happen, we need a system that encourages the development and testing of combination therapies.
At Wistar, our researchers are seeking the complex tangle of the interrelated genetic pathways that drive cancers such as ovarian, breast, and melanoma. Cancer is a disease of our genes, and fundamental research into cancer genetics will lead to improved screening tools, therapies, and, ultimately, better results for patients.