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Cancer Road

Illustration of human body showing internal organs

A driver traveling to New York City might take I-95, I-78, I-87, or any number of alternate routes. Most cancers begin similarly, with many possible routes to the disease. A new study has found that assessing the route to cancer on a case-by-case basis might make more sense than basing a patient’s treatment on commonly disrupted genes and pathways.

The study found little or no overlap in the most prominent genetic malfunction associated with each patient’s disease compared to malfunctions shared among the group of patients as a whole.

“This paper argues for the importance of personalized medicine, where we treat each person by looking for the etiology of the disease in patients individually,” said John McDonald, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Biology. “The findings have ramifications for how we might best optimize cancer treatments as we enter the era of targeted gene therapy.”

McDonald and his team of researchers collected cancer and normal tissue samples from four patients with pancreatic cancer and analyzed data that had previously been reported from eight other pancreatic cancer patients. The team compiled a list of the most aberrantly expressed genes in the cancer tissues isolated from the patients relative to adjacent normal pancreatic tissue.

The study found that, collectively, 287 genes displayed significant differences in expression in the cancers compared to normal tissues. Twenty-two cellular pathways were enriched in cancer samples, with more than half related to the body’s immune response. The researchers ran statistical analyses to determine if the genes most abnormally expressed on an individual patient basis were the same as those identified as most abnormally expressed across the entire group of patients.

The researchers found that the molecular profile of each individual cancer patient was unique in terms of the most significantly disrupted genes and pathways.

The research was published in the journal PANCREAS and was funded by the St. Joseph’s Mercy Foundation.

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