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Whole Genome Sequencing Towards Individualized Cancer Care

By Vicki Mozo

Have you heard of genetic medicine? Perhaps you might not be aware that there is a therapeutic intervention such as that being developed to treat diseases.

As the name implies, you may already have a notion what genetic medicine is. Genetic medicine is a contemporary medical treatment of diseases by trudging through the molecular facet of a human being -- the genes. It toils on sequencing genes and then utilizing the information to create a rather effective treatment plan to manage or cure diseases. Thus, it renders hope to individuals suffering from appalling diseases and illnesses that arise wholly or in part from genetic abnormalities. It promises to treat or manage various genetic diseases, such as cancers.

Cancers are diseases that should not be entirely blamed to genes that eventually became deviant. As a matter of fact, only a small percentage of cancers are caused by hereditary components. Most cancers develop mainly due to environmental factors. However, we cannot dispose the fact that there is a heightened risk to cancers in individuals carrying genes sensitive to influences from environmental factors.

The commonly prescribed cancer treatments include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery. These treatments are effective for only certain types of cancers. It means not all cancers can be treated effectively with one form of treatment, particularly cancers that have spread to other body parts. Thus, merely removing a cancerous tumor from a single site by means of surgery is not enough when cancer cells have already spread to other sites where they form new tumors.

Chemotherapy also becomes less effective when certain cancer cells have acquired resistance to antineoplastic drugs. Apart from that, chemotherapy involves serious side effects, such as disrupting the normal function of the immune system, causing toxicity in vital organs, and destroying actively dividing normal cells as well, like hair follicles.

New medical approaches are highly desired to treat cancers. Christopher Wanjek, a health and science journalist, argues that there is no single cure for all cancers to date. He says, "Will there ever be a cure for cancer? Likely not… Cancer is a group of diseases. In the same way there is no single cure for infectious diseases, cancers have many different origins and must be treated differently."1

Does it mean some forms of cancers can be viewed as a terminal condition? For sure, physicians, medical researchers, and cancer patients themselves would hardly accept this view. That is why researchers are constantly searching for ways to pin down potential cure. The battle is molecular; perhaps a molecular battle ground is essential to understand and stop fully the cancer cells from harming the body. Thus, instead of the immediate use of the "indiscriminate firing-like" approach to kill cancer cells -- which unfortunately kills the normal, healthy cells as well -- perhaps a more individualized treatment plan is a way to do it.

Whole Genome Sequencing or WGS is a process that looks at the whole genome. With it, scientists can get a full view of the individual's DNA from both the chromosomes and the mitochondria. Recently, a new stride in WGS took place as scientists begin to consider using this information to understand the genetic origins of a particular disease and then formulate a specific treatment plan based on it.

Research teams from Mayo Clinic in Arizona and the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) were able to successfully complete sequencing both the normal and cancer cells from a male cancer patient.2 They are looking forward to using these data to treat the patient's pancreatic cancer more effectively and precisely. When they are able to do this, the team is positive that physicians would soon be able to come up with a better plan to treat every patient with cancer by using WGS.

How would WGS lead to more effective and precise treatments? By whole, it means that the entire genome is sequenced. Physicians could therefore fully inspect a patient's genome, compare cancer cell's DNA with normal cell's DNA of the patient, and identify the genetic origins of the disease. Also, the genetic cause of resistance to conventional treatments can be identified. This strategy could eventually be a first step towards a potential course for a more individualized cancer care.

Definitely, there would be some roadblocks ahead, such as the high cost for performing WGS and the ethical issues involved. Nonetheless, every potential treatment to cancer is worth the look as we value the life of every individual stricken with formidable cancer.




1 Christopher Wanjek, 19 September 2006, Exciting New Cancer Treatments Emerge Amid Persistent Myths, http://www.livescience.com/4211-exciting-cancer-treatments-emerge-persistent-myths.html
2 The Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), 16 February 2011, Whole genome sequencing used to help inform cancer therapy, http://www.tgen.org/news/index.cfm?newsid=1933


To cite (APA-style):

Mozo, Vicki (2011, April 6). Whole Genome Sequencing Towards Individualized Cancer Care. Biology-Online.org.
Retrieved from http://www.biology-online.org

Disclaimer: This article is intended to provide information and individual opinion of the author (and not of the site). Any information contained in this article should not be used to replace professional or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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