Biggest effort yet to battle cancer could change lives -

Cancer Genome Atlas Project

A project is underway in Arizona that will change the way cancer is diagnosed and treated, and even prevented.

It's being called the biggest effort in history to discover the blueprint of cancer that will lead to victory in the battle against the disease.

With the help of their patients, the Arizona Cancer Center and 13 other sites will collect tumor tissue and send it to the Phoenix-based International Genomics Consortium for the Cancer Genome Atlas Project.

The goal is nothing short of winning the battle against cancer by mapping the genes of 10,000 different tumors from the 20 major cancers in order to understand how they work and how to stop them.

That is expected to mean better diagnoses, better treatments, and more lives saved.

"When they give you a drug they [should] have a really good sense, based on your cancer's blueprints, that it will be effective, instead of waiting to see if the tumor shrinks," says Dr. Robert Penny, CEO of the International Genomics Consortium.

"And more importantly," he continues, "Why do some therapies work and some don't? And how do you best target those pathways to help future patients?"

That saves money, but more importantly, it saves precious time and lives. 

The International Genomics Consortium will be the hub of the project.

This is personalized medicine, something Arizona Cancer Center Director Dr. David Alberts envisioned decades ago.

"That's the way all medicine is going, I believe in the 21st century, toward individualization of management. One size doesn't always fit all," Dr. Alberts says.

"It could be that an ovarian cancer, because it was on the surface of the ovary, is much more like a breast cancer than an ovarian cancer in its genomic makeup and requires a different approach to treatment," he explains. "If we, in fact, are able to identify differences in a woman's tumor, we're in a better position to know perhaps that the standard treatment is not likely to be beneficial, that a different treatment might be better, by classifying them based on their genomic profile."

The information gathered on the 10,000 tumors will be free and available for scientists and doctors around the world to use in research and treatment.

There is some personalized medicine now, but the field is moving slowly.

Dr. Penny says that with worldwide intellectual power and money aimed at discovering cancer's blueprint, it's expected the process of customizing therapy for each individual patient will be accelerated.

He says the National Institutes of Health has, so far, put $275 million into the first two years of the five-year project.  

Dr. Penny says other countries around the world are interested in funding their own research and participating in the project.

"I think we're going to see real dividends in five years and 10 years and continue. This will be the keystone of the future for oncology," Dr. Penny says.

The researchers say the goal is to cure cancer, but if it can't be cured, to manage it just like we manage high blood pressure or diabetes.

A cancer patient merely would have periodic treatments, as needed, and live a long, normal life.

Copyright 2012 America Now. All rights reserved.

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