MUSC background

Genomics: Fulfilling the Promise of Personalized Therapy

Cancer genomics is a new frontier in cancer research and is a significant focus of the Hollings Cancer Center research enterprise via its Cancer Genes and Molecular Regulation (CGMR) program, led by Ethier. The field of cancer genomics investigates how a cell’s molecular machinery drives cancer initiation, development and metastasis.

The endgame of genomics research is to realize the promise of personalized medicine, which is treatment tailored to the individual patient based on genetic and other information. According to Ethier, major breakthroughs in personalized medicine for cancer have come in the treatment of certain leukemias, certain types of breast cancer, and more recently in lung cancer and melanoma. Today, patients are treated with new targeted drugs when their cancers contain specific driver cancer genes, and these drugs are rapidly changing the course and outcome of these diseases.

Researchers in Hollings’ CGMR program focus their efforts on identifying novel genetic alterations and assessing their functions and the proteins they encode. These genes and proteins then become new targets to examine for potential intervention through improved diagnostics or better therapies.

“There is a lot of noise going on inside cancer cells. They can contain thousands of alterations, and our work is to figure out which ones are the driver onco­genes powering the cancer, and which ones are merely passenger genes unlikely to do any harm,” explained research­er and CGMR program member Hiu Wing “Tony” Cheung, PhD. “When we find the drivers, we can aim new or existing drugs at them to find out how they respond.”

Dr. Cheung said the caliber of the CGMR team and the investment MUSC and Hollings are making in genomics technology, as well as a large assay library of chemicals to test against targets, put the institution at the leading edge of genomics research. For example, MUSC has invested in sophisticated high-throughput equipment that allows researchers to conduct tens of thousands of genetic, chemical or phar­macological tests in a short period of time, significantly accelerating the discovery timeline.

“The goal is to understand the genome information obtained from each tumor,” Dr. Cheung added. “We only know that a handful of genetic alterations, if present in tumors, would provide actionable therapeutic option to cancer patients. We definitely want to identify many more such targets. That’s why we’re doing this in a high-powered way at MUSC.”

Image created by Martin Krzywinski, Staff Scientist
Canada’s Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre BC Cancer Research Centre

Article reprinted from Horizons and written by:
Vicky Agnew
Director of Strategic & Integrated Communications
Hollings Cancer Center
A National Cancer Institute Designated Cancer Center
Medical University of South Carolina
843-792-0376 direct office
843-697-6208 cell
Email: agnew@musc.edu
http://hcc.musc.edu
Twitter: muschollings

STEPHEN P. ETHIER, PhD

"To make progress against cancer, we must realize that every person's cancer is different at the genetic level. We can use an understanding of these differences to improve the mode of therapy for cancer patients."

HIU WING "TONY" CHEUNG, PhD

"There is a lot of noise going on inside cancer cells. They can contain thousands of alterations, and our work is to figure out which ones are the driver oncogenes powering the cancer, and which ones are merely passenger genes unlikely to do any harm."