Using the Tumor DNA Blueprint of Breast Cancer Patients as a Key to Personalized Medicine

Guest post by Matthew J. C. Ellis , M.B., B.Chir., Ph.D., FRCP Anheuser Busch Professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine and head of breast oncology at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine and Jerome Jourquin, Ph.D., Scientific Grants Manager, Susan G. Komen

The term “cancer genomics” is the study of the genetic code or DNA blueprint of tumor cells to determine how cancer cells behave differently from normal cells.  In the field of breast cancer research, genomic investigation has already led too better tools to manage this disease in a number of ways – from describing different biological subtypes of breast cancer to the design of new targeted treatments, such as trastuzumab.  However most of the vast amount of new information recently generated on the genetic code of breast cancer is very poorly understood, but if we could gain deeper insights, we would discover new biological keys to unlock doors that currently block access to solutions for some of the most difficult problems, such as why cancers are all too often resistant to standard treatments.  To answer this challenge, Susan G. Komen will invest millions of dollars in research projects that will further decrypt the DNA blueprint of tumors from breast cancer patients in order to extract the medical value of this information and deliver individualized and more effective treatment plans to patients.

For example, this year, Komen will fund the research of Dr. Christina Curtis, an Assistant Professor at the University of Southern California.  She will investigate differences in the genetic material of HER2-positive tumors before and after treatment with trastuzumab to develop a tool that will predict treatment resistance in patients receiving that drug. Dr. Curtis will then use this knowledge to design new therapies that will overcome resistance to trastuzumab.

Other newly-funded investigators include Dr. Richard Myers, President, Director and Investigator at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. His team will analyze DNA blueprints from individual patients’ tumors with the goal of providing patients with the best treatment options available, personalized to their specific tumor.  Dr. Meyers will particularly focus on analyzing ER-positive tumors in postmenopausal women to determine which tumors have DNA blueprints that would make them more sensitive to a treatment combination of letrozole and bevacizumab.

In addition, Komen will also renew its support to Dr. Andrea Richardson, an Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School, to continue investigating whether mutations beneficial to tumors could be linked to increased autophagy, literally “self-eating”. Autophagy is a nutrient recycling process that is co-opted by tumor cells to feed their voracious appetite for growth.  Insights into autophagy in tumor cells will be translated into new treatments that will weaken the autophagy progress in breast cancers presenting with specific DNA abnormalities that create an abnormal reliance on this process.
Komen’s exciting new research grants in the area of tumor genomics will have a direct impact on bringing personalized medicine to breast cancer patients thorough the identification of new targets that will prove instrumental in the design and validation of new and improved treatments.  With a better understanding of their own tumor DNA abnormalities, patients will receive treatment plans specifically tailored to them, instead of having to undergo treatments that have not been optimized for their specific type of cancer.


About the author

Susan G. Komen has written 342 articles for Susan G. Komen® | Blog

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.