The recently launched Personalized Cancer Medicine Initiative will individualize cancer treatment by matching the appropriate therapy to the genetic changes, or mutations, that are driving the cancer’s growth.
The first tumors to be tested are types of non-small cell lung cancer and melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. Both have been notoriously difficult to treat, but new therapies that target specific genetic alterations in the tumors have shown promising results.
Vanderbilt’s Personalized Cancer Medicine program is led by Dr. William Pao, Ingram Associate Professor of Cancer Research and an expert in lung cancer.
“During the past decade it has become clear that the genetic makeup of a patient’s tumor can have a significant impact on the patient’s response to targeted therapy,” Pao says. “With this genetically informed cancer medicine approach, we should achieve better outcomes.”
Dr. Jeffrey Sosman, professor of medicine, notes that having the genotype information is also important to helping patients avoid the side effects of traditional chemotherapy.
“If [we find that] a tumor is likely to respond to a targeted therapy, then we can avoid the side effects of traditional chemotherapy,” says Sosman, who directs the center’s melanoma program.
Vanderbilt is further leading the nation by leveraging its sophisticated Electronic Medical Record to use the genotype information in point-of-care decision making—which will ensure that “all health-care providers at Vanderbilt caring for the patient are fully informed and guided by the latest decision support on these advanced therapies,” says Dr. Dan Masys, chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics.
“Through a unique and cohesive set of advances that combine innovations in health-care informatics, genomics and drug discovery, we are beginning to ‘deliver’ on the promise of the Human Genome Project, with highly personalized therapy for our patients,” says Dr. Jeff Balser, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.
Vanderbilt’s BioVU databank is one of the nation’s most comprehensive collections of human DNA that is linked to searchable, electronic health information. It now has more than 100,000 specific samples, with more than 500 samples being added every day. BioVU is a key component in a number of large NIH-funded projects that are helping define the new field of personalized medicine at Vanderbilt and nationally.