The laboratory needs accurate, reproducible methods for selecting cancer treatments and spotting resistance early
Lisa Jensen-Long | | Longer Read
At a Glance
- New cancer treatments are either directed toward genetic variations in individual patients or toward harnessing the patient’s immune system
- Many patients don’t benefit from these therapies because scientists do not yet understand cancer biology sufficiently well to know whether a particular therapy will work
- Most current diagnostic tools are not simple, reproducible, or accurate enough to enable physicians to consistently develop optimal treatment regimens
- Droplet digital PCR assays can efficiently and reliably measure cell-free circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in liquid biopsies, enabling clinicians to make therapy decisions rapidly and in real time
Drug developers have created cancer therapies that can target specific cancer types, often defined down to a single genetic mutation or protein biomarker. These can be incredibly effective against the right cancer – but matching the right therapy to the right patient continues to present a challenge. Single markers and data points cannot fully identify the broad dynamics of cancer and, for a significant number of patients, these precision treatments often fall short in their promise to deliver a positive outcome.
Surgery to remove tumors is often the first-line treatment for patients, but one in five patients experience complications during the surgery that can diminish its benefits (1). Additionally, patients may undergo chemotherapy – a standby of cancer treatment since the end of World War II – to kill remaining disease in the body. However, chemotherapy is unlikely to succeed in patients with late-stage cancer (2).
Oncologists try to tailor treatments based on the results of genetic tests performed on tumor samples, but tumors are heterogeneous; nine times out of 10, cancer evolves to resist the effects of chemotherapy (2). Tissue biopsies only capture cells from one part of a tumor – so cells in other parts may have different genetic profiles, including ones that are resistant to the oncologist’s chosen treatment. Subsequently, cancer cells that resist chemotherapy survive to proliferate and mutate.
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