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Cancer Genomics Precision-Medicine Center Opens in Boston

Levi Garraway

Levi Garraway (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute)

A group of research institutes and hospitals in Boston is opening a new lab to study the science leading to individualized cancer therapies based on the genomic make-up of a patient’s tumors. The Joint Center for Cancer Precision Medicine is a collaboration of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard universities.

The new center will reside at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and be headed by Levi Garraway, a research professor at the institute who is also a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Garraway, in an institute statement, says the term “precision” in this case refers to “an emerging form of cancer care that identifies genetic changes within a patient’s tumor that can be used to predict how it will behave and which drugs will be most effective against it.”

The center is expected to obtain biopsies from tumors in patients during their treatment, from which researchers will extract and investigate genetic material (DNA, RNA) and proteins. These samples will be used to help determine how cancers respond to drugs or develop a resistance to them. The specimens will also be used to build cancer cell lines for lab testing.

The Joint Center for Cancer Precision Medicine will combine expertise and technology in DNA sequencing and other molecular profiling techniques, pathology, radiology, surgery, simulation and modeling of tumors, and computational techniques for interpreting the high volume of data generated from this approach. The new center will include a computational biology section with bioinformatics and software specialists to devise new algorithms for processing and interpreting the data.

The work of the center will dovetail with other Dana-Farber projects. One of those projects called CanSeq and led by Garraway, is sequencing the entire human exome of cancer patients to find previously undiscovered genomic abnormalities associated with a patient’s cancer.  Exomes are small subsets of whole genomes, but representing the vast majority of disease-causing mutations.

Another project feeding into the new center is called Profile, which is sequencing the DNA in 305 cancer-related genes of some 18,000 patients, both adults and children, at the partnering institutions. That project is creating one of the largest databases of genetic abnormalities that result in tumors.

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