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New Cancer Treatments and DNA

In The Zone
Treating cancer at the base level of where it mutates makes so much sense, and I have been reading more and more about targeted therapies for certain kinds of cancers. A recent interview by Dr. Philip A. Sharp with the Boston Globe clearly shows that we are definitely living in exciting days in the 21st Century. Dr. Sharp discusses the subject of genomics and DNA in treating cancer at the cellular level.

What is Genomics?
Webster’s – [Genomics]: a branch of technology that applies the techniques of genetics and molecular biology to the genetic mapping and DNA sequencing of sets of genes or the complete genomes of selected organisms, with organizing the results in databases, and with applications of the data (as in medicine or biology).

Cancer treatment is slowly becoming more personalized. Now a tumor’s genes can be sequenced- in other words- scientists can “read its mail.” Researchers can plainly see character changes in cancerous tissue relative to that of healthy tissue.

Collaborative & Innovative Research
Dr. Sharp is spearheading a collaborative research effort called Stand Up to Cancer. It is comprised of seven teams at various universities going “outside the box” to know and understand more about the different aspects of cancer. He said that the reason cancer is so hard to defeat is because it is very complex and that a person’s cells “accumulate genetic mutations over many decades.” Because of this, and as most of us know by now, the outcomes of treating cancer successfully is when it is caught early.

Trying to Make Cancer Cells Behave
What the researchers know is that tumor cells respond to DNA that has been modified, and they have discovered ways to manipulate the cell’s behavior. This technique appears to make them sensitive to drugs that they have become resistant to. Doctors are learning that combinations of treatments work best for controlling many cancers. Treatments are becoming less toxic, thereby allowing patients a better quality of life afterwards.

The Hopeful Future
Dr. Sharp says that the same technology that is used in manipulating cancer cells will be the same that has the potential to be used in prevention of the disease. He states that “…sequencing the DNA from cancers has allowed us to identify mutations that increase the susceptibility of patients to cancer.” In the future these types of discoveries will also hopefully help healthcare leaders to guide people to make intensely individual lifestyle modifications that will lessen their risk of ever getting the disease. Dr. Sharp is an advocate of healthy lifestyle choices and practices them by not smoking and keeping a healthy weight, as well as avoiding other behaviors that might increase the risk of cancer.

Dr. Phillip A. Sharp is a Nobel laureate and MIT Institute professor, and chairman of the scientific advisory committee of Stand Up to Cancer. Karen Weintraub is correspondent for the Boston Globe. Source: Be Well Boston Lifestyle/Health section September 5, 2012

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