September 15, 2019 by Peter B. Laird
Delving Into DNA at Miami Cancer Institute’s ‘Molecular Diagnostics’ Lab
Cancer, unlike any other disease, is a genetic disorder. It is the result of genetic mutations in the DNA of our cells that lead to uncontrolled growth, creating tumors.
Understanding the genetics of a tumor results in precision medicine, the fast-advancing science of using vital data from a patient’s DNA to defeat a particular cancer.
At Miami Cancer Institute, the work of discovering exactly which gene mutations are driving a patient’s cancer happens inside its new clinical Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory. In this custom-designed, complex lab environment, DNA from patients’ tumors is extracted, prepared and sequenced following exacting procedures under climate-controlled conditions.
(Watch Vdeo Now: Go behind the scenes inside the clinical Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory at Miami Cancer Institute. Video by George Carvalho and Carol Higgins.)
“That’s why it’s vitally important to have a genomic medicine program embedded in Miami Cancer Institute,” said Jeff Boyd, Ph.D., associate deputy director of Translational Research and Genomic Medicine at Miami Cancer Institute. “Not only is every individual patient’s tumor different, but any two liver tumors or breast tumors or prostate tumors are different. So, it’s very important to understand the genetic architecture of a particular tumor if we are to implement precision therapy.”
Precision medicine uses information about a person’s genes, proteins and environment to prevent, diagnose and treat disease, according to the National Cancer Institute’s definition. Precision therapeutic cancer drugs are designed to match a specific genetic mutation in an individual’s tumor and shut it down to make the cell stop acting like a cancer cell.
The Institute’s lab is equipped with next-generation sequencing technology able to sequence three entire human genomes in 72 hours. An expert team of lab directors, managers and certified molecular and medical technologists operate the instruments and provide detailed molecular pathology reports.
According to Dr. Boyd, these reports provide a summary of the available FDA-approved or off-label drugs, as well as any current clinical trials that match a specific drug to a specific mutation in an individual patient’s cancer.
“One of the advantages of having, in-house, a molecular diagnostics laboratory and a Center for Genomic Medicine is that the individuals who run the test are here to answer questions that the oncologists may have,” Dr. Boyd explained. “These content experts attend the molecular tumor board and help physicians work through the options detailed in the report. This educational component, and the environment we’ve created of thinking genetically, is not available at the vast majority of cancer centers around the country.”