Research ArticleCancer

Personalized Oncology Through Integrative High-Throughput Sequencing: A Pilot Study

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Science Translational Medicine  30 Nov 2011:
Vol. 3, Issue 111, pp. 111ra121
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3003161

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First Steps to Personalized Cancer Treatment

In an optimistic vision of personalized medicine, each cancer patient is treated with drugs tailored for their particular tumor. This sounds appealing, but is it even possible? Roychowdhury and his colleagues tested this approach by extensively characterizing cancers in several patients and then convening a Sequencing Tumor Board of experts to determine the appropriate treatment. With a combination of whole genome and exome sequencing plus sequencing of transcribed RNA, the authors were able to find informative mutations within 3 to 4 weeks, a short enough time to be useful clinically.

To verify that their sequencing strategy would work before testing it on actual patients, they assessed two xenografts established from patients with metastatic prostate cancer. They found that one of these carried the common prostate cancer–specific gene fusion of TMPRSS2 and ERG and another, previously undescribed, gene fusion. Also, the androgen receptor gene was amplified and two tumor suppressors were inactivated. The Board concluded that this pattern of mutations could in theory be treated by combined block of the PI3K and androgen receptor signaling pathways.

The authors then turned to an actual patient, a 46 year old with colorectal cancer, who had been unsuccessfully treated. Characterization of his metastatic tumor showed mutations in the oncogene NRAS, the tumor suppressor TP53, aurora kinase A, a myosin heavy chain and the FAS death receptor, plus amplification of CDK8. Of these, the Sequencing Tumor Board concluded that the NRAS and CDK8 aberrations could potentially be matched to clinical trials, although none were available at the time. Similar analysis of another patient with metastatic melanoma revealed a structural rearrangement in CDKN2C and HRas. Although the HRAS mutation has not been described before in melanoma, the Sequencing Tumor Board suggested that combined treatment with PI3K and MEK inhibitors would be suitable for this patient.

The good news resulting from these studies was that the patients’ tumors were analyzed with in 24 days for ~$3600, well within the cost of routine clinical tests. But aspects need improvement: Additional testing for epigenetic and small RNA variants will allow more informative characterization. Sequencing at higher depth or enrichment methods will be needed for tumors of lower purity. And perhaps most important, we need a broader array of clinical trials, as highlighted by the fact that none was available for these two patients.


  • * These authors contributed equally to this work.

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