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Lung cancer genetics moves forward

4 November 2013
Appeared in BioNews 729

Two recent studies have shown how treatments for lung cancer can be tailored to a tumour's genetic make-up, which may ultimately improve existing treatments or even help to identify new ones.

In the first study, published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers showed that a method of classifying lung cancer tumours according to their genetic composition lead to improved treatment outcomes for some patients.

The researchers studied tumours from over 5,000 patients with lung cancer and produced a blueprint to subdivide the tumours into genetically defined classes. An improvement in cancer survival time was seen in patients who received genetically informed treatment, compared to standard chemotherapy.

Reinhard Buttner, professor of pathology at University Hospital Cologne, Germany and a co-author on the paper said that 'systematic profiling of gene mutation in lung cancer allows precise classification and diagnostics and predicts the efficacy of targeted and personalised therapies'.

'Every lung cancer should be analysed for mutations to find the best therapy', he added.

But Dr Sarah Hazell, senior information officer at Cancer Research UK said 'it's too early to claim a victory'.

'[Lung cancer is] still one of the hardest to treat cancers, and matching patients to a personalised treatment is still in its infancy', she said.

In the second study, published in Nature Medicine, researchers from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the University of Colorado Cancer Center, USA, identified a mutation in three of 91 tumour samples where standard clinical testing could not detect known alterations.

Using next-generation sequencing, the researchers described a genetic mutation caused by the fusion of two normally separate genes that causes cells to divide rapidly. A treatment that blocks the protein of one of the genes - the NTRK1 gene - was shown to destroy the cancer cells, potentially leading to a new avenue of treatment for these types of lung cancer.

Dr Vincent Miller, chief medical officer at Foundation Medicine and co-author of the study said, 'Our understanding of cancer complexity is increasing, and lung cancer continues to be dissected into a series of uncommon or even rare diseases based on the molecular alterations driving a patient's individual cancer'.

A Genomics-Based Classification of Human Lung Tumors
Science Translational Medicine |  30 October 2013
Foundation Medicine Identifies Novel, Clinically Actionable Gene Fusion NTRK1 in Lung  Cancer; Data Published in Nature Medicine (pdf)
Foundation Medicine (press release) |  27 October 2013
Gene Testing May Boost Lung Cancer Survival: Study (HealthDay News) |  30 October 2013
Genetic testing raises hope for lung cancer treatments
BBC News |  30 October 2013
Novel Target for Lung Cancer Treatment Discovered
Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News |  29 October 2013
Oncogenic and drug-sensitive NTRK1 rearrangements in lung cancer
Nature Medicine |  27 October 2013
Study finds new genetic error in some lung cancers
EurekAlert! (press release) |  27 October 2013
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