CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Clinic is one of only a few health care systems across the U.S. that is now doing expanded genomic testing for some of its cancer patients, pointing the way to a future of personalized medicine.
“This is a cancer-specific test that we offer, and what I want people to understand is that cancer is a genetic disease,” said Dr. Brian Rubin, professor of pathology and chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.
He added, “Genetic alterations, or things that go wrong with the genetics in cells, give rise to cancers.”
Rubin noted that there are drugs that target some of those genetic alterations.
“The genetic alterations encode abnormal proteins, and we have drugs that we're able to target these abnormal proteins with,” Rubin said. “What this does, in essence, is it allows us to do a deep genetic dive into each person's individual cancer with the hope of identifying a protein or an abnormal protein through the genetics that we can then target.”
This, Rubin said, is personalized cancer medicine.
“It's targeting the individual cancer with a targeted therapy, and these therapies tend to be way less toxic than traditional chemotherapy and the way more effective,” Rubin said.
For Rubin, a cancer researcher and geneticist, this is “the dream.”
“I’ve discovered things in my career that I can now target with drugs, and so there's nothing better,” he said.
Rubin called it “bench-to-bedside” research.
“We take something at the bench, the research bench, discover it, develop a therapy that targets that alteration and then we can bring it to bear on individual patients to improve the outcome,” he said. “And we can convert, in some cases, very lethal cancers into chronic diseases where people's lives are prolonged by five, ten years, in some cases, possibly even cures. But the field is so young, we don't know. We don't fully understand even if people are going to be cured by these, but we know we can prolong life and that quality of life is very good in many instances.”
While the Clinic has done genetic testing for years, this expanded genomic testing for cancer patients began in August and continues to be active at the Clinic right now.
“If you feel like you're somebody who might benefit from this, go talk to your oncologist. We offer it to every patient at the Cleveland Clinic,” Rubin said. “But it is a discussion with the oncologist. Not every single cancer patient needs this, so it requires an individual discussion.”
Rubin noted this genomic testing is for solid tumors only right now.
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