We continually replace many of the cells within our bodies, so our genome is continually being copied and packaged into those new cells. Sometimes mistakes are made during the replacement process and these mistakes are transmitted to the copied DNA. Environmental factors can also cause mistakes to occur within our DNA, so during our lifetimes we accumulate a significant number random mistakes. For most people this is a benign process. However, in some cases the random errors occur in important places within the genome and the result of this may be uncontrolled cell growth, leading to cancer. Because of the accumulation of errors in our DNA, adult cancer is usually found later in life, within the few cell types that grow and divide most often. This is not the case with childhood cancer.
Children and Cancer
Children are still developing and have a great deal of cell growth that adults do not, so anti-cancer drugs or radiotherapy can affect changes in both the cancer and the many areas of normal active growth and development. Around 60% of the children that survive cancer will develop a chronic health condition and after 30 years roughly 40% will have a life-threatening or even life-ending chronic health condition. Additionally, the survivors have a significantly increased risk of developing a second type of cancer. This is thought to be a direct result of a child`s initial cancer treatment.
What we need is a way to minimize the undesirable effects of chemotherapy or radiotherapy on children and maximize the specificity of the treatment. The emerging field of cancer genetics aims to describe the differences between the patient’s normal genetic material and that of the cancer. This information can then be used to guide oncologists and to generate more effective treatments. This is the essence of Personalized Medicine.
This new paradigm of personalized medicine attempts to change cancer treatment as it currently exists and move away from a one-size-fits-all approach. Personalized cancer treatment plans to use data that specifically describes the differences between the patient and the tumor from both genomic and proteomic standpoints. Oncologists may then select an appropriate treatment that is likely to be the most effective in destroying the specific tumor, while being least harmful to the patient. This is an especially important approach to take when treating childhood cancer.
Personalized medicine is the future of medicine and much research remains to be done to allow its translation into better treatments. The Nicholas Conor Institute aims to be at the forefront of personalized medicine for children, leading to new and far more effective treatments for childhood cancer while exhibiting far fewer side effects and a much higher quality of life, both during- and post-treatment.
The Nicholas Conor Institute
3525 Del Mar Heights Road, #946
San Diego, California 92130