Precision Medicine: Big Ideas in Cancer Research, Treatment and Prevention

Dr. Robert Vonderheide, Abramson Cancer Center Director
Dr. Chi Dang, Director, Abramson Cancer Center

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the Philadelphia Inquirer are hosting a half-day public conference next Thursday, January 21, which will bring together the top minds in the region to talk about precision medicine.

"Here we are at the beginning of a new year, in the wake of good news about the bump in funding to the National Institutes of Health and secured funding for President Obama's Precision Medicine Initiative, two key actions that will help this area of medicine soar," says Abramson Cancer directnelist at the event. "This is an important time for precision medicine, so it makes good sense for us come together to discuss both the successes and pitfalls, and what's next."

You've probably heard the buzzword “precision medicine.” But do you know exactly what it means?

At the Abramson Cancer Center, we've found that cancers are like snowflakes. To the naked eye (or through the lens of a microscope), one lung cancer, for example, may look very much the same as another. However, when you look at a molecular level, no two cancers are exactly alike. And this means that no two cancers should be treated the same.

What can you expect to hear from Penn?

During the discussion, Dr. Dang and other doctors will share their big ideas about personalized approaches to prevention and treatments.

At the Penn Medicine Center for Personalized Diagnostics, a team of scientists and clinicians perform genetic testing on cancer patients. They are able to identify exact and specific disease-associated genome mutations in an extremely high percentage of the patients they test. By knowing the nature of the disease with molecular-level accuracy, the medical team leaders can then proscribe an equally exact and specific treatment plan, personalized to target that unique genetic mutation and, thus, give that patient the greatest chance for the best outcome possible.

Precision medicine is allowing us to expedite the process of giving patients the right combination of current therapies and clinical trials. At the same time, instead of guessing about or hoping for good results when the genetic signature of the disease doesn't match the solutions, we can spare patients from the unnecessary costs and side effects of certain treatments in advance.

One path that we've taken thanks to the diagnostics we glean is through immunotherapy treatment.

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is treatment that uses certain parts of the immune system to fight cancer or to lessen the side effects that may be caused by some cancer treatments.

The immune system is a network of cells and organs that work together to defend the body against attacks by foreign substances. It’s one of the body's main defenses against disease, including cancer. For example, cancer may develop when the immune system breaks down or is not functioning adequately.

So, if we see signs of this during testing, immunotherapy may be the answer. The immune system can recognize the difference between healthy cells and cancer cells and work to eliminate those that become cancerous. Immunotherapies are designed to repair, stimulate or enhance the immune system's responses.

For this reason, the topic of immunotherapy is expected to take center stage at the event.

According to Dr. Dang: "Philadelphia is a hotbed for healthcare innovation and groundbreaking scientific research, which becomes even more apparent as the ACC continues to move the needle in the precision medicine world. Quickly evolving diagnostics and genetic tests, cancer vaccines, and powerful personalized therapies that use the body's own immune system to fight off cancer: These are just a few of the medical advances being utilized today that are giving patients the greatest chance."

Interested in attending?

The conference will take place:

Thursday, January 21, 2016 | 1:30-7:30 pm
The College of Physicians of Philadelphia
19 South 22nd Street
Philadelphia, PA

About This Blog

The Focus on Cancer blog discusses a variety of cancer-related topics, including treatment advances, research efforts and clinical trials, nutrition, support groups, survivorship and patient stories.

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